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Cyanotoxins in Drinking Water: Emergency Survival Guide

Do NOT Boil: If you have cyanotoxins in your drinking water, because boiling concentrates the poison and makes it worse. Drinking cyanotoxin-contaminated water is unsafe, but you can wash with it, clean with it, and even irrigate your lawn and garden. Do NOT allow your pets to drink the water. Some home water filtration systems can reduce levels of cyanotoxins in your water, but no home water filter system can guarantee removal. For that reason, you should not drink water from your home water filter system if cyanotoxin contamination has occurred.

The exception to that rule above is Reverse Osmosis and Distillation systems. In this article, we’ll outline a safe drinking water system for cyanotoxin contamination

cyanotoxins in drinking water survival guide inforgraphic

Cyanotoxins in drinking water mean you can’t drink it. But you can use it for other purposes

To use the information in this guide: Find out if your water has been declared “unsafe to use” or “unsafe to drink”. If your water has been declared unsafe to drink, you can still use it for washing, cleaning, and plant irrigation. If your water has been declared unsafe to use, then it’s not safe to use period.

Pets are especially sensitive to cyanotoxins! Do not allow your pet to come in contact with cyanotoxin-contaminated water. If your animal swims in blue-green algae laced water, wash it off with clean water as soon as possible. Do NOT let the animal lick the algae off its fur!

If you can find out the levels of cyanotoxins are that have been found in your water you can use the below chart. Cyanotoxins are measured in parts per billion (ppb) or micrograms per liter (µg/L). These measures are equivalent. For example, 5 parts per billion are equal to 5 micrograms per liter. This information should be readily available from you local news, or water treatment plant.

Health Based Guidelines for Cyanotoxins in drinking water

For drinking water, the US EPA limits the maximum amount of the four main groups of cyanotoxins to between one and three parts per billion. For non-drinking water, e.g that used for washing, the EPA allows levels of between 6 and 100 parts per billion. Here are the four main groups of cyanotoxins, and the levels allowed for drinking, and for washing:

Water Use Anotoxin-a Cylinrospermopsin Microcystins Saxitoxins
Drinking water 3 1 1 3
Non-drinking 20 6 10 100


How to use this chart: Using the information about the cyanotoxins found in your water, locate the toxins found on the chart. Below the toxin, you see the safe levels of cyanotoxins in your water in parts per billion (ppb)  or micrograms per liter (µg/L). Remember, they are the same.

For example: The August first cyanotoxin outbreak in Toledo Ohio was declared by health authorities to be “unsafe for drinking.” This means that residents of Toledo could still use their water for non-drinking purposes

Filter system for cyanotoxins

Safely filtering cyanotoxins requires either reverse osmosis, or distillation. For best results, you will want three layers of filtration:

  • Granular Activated Carbon (GAC)
  • Reverse Osmosis (RO)
  • UV Light Disinfection

The three layers of filtration above ensure that your drinking water is protected from cyanotoxins. The system depends on reverse osmosis, so it can’t produce enough water for the whole house. It will produce between 50 – 100 gallons of clean drinking water per day. You may still be able to use your unfiltered water for non-drinking purposes if it has not been declared unsafe to use.

Life Ionizers recommends: If you use the drinking water treatment system above, you should run the water from the system through a remineralization filter. RO strips out all the minerals in water, that leaves water tasting flat. Remineralizing your water will make it taste better, and it will be better for your health.

You MUST flush this drinking water system out after the cyanotoxin outbreak is over. Follow the guidelines listed below.

Non-drinking purposes you can safely use cyanotoxin contaminated water for

If your water has been declared “unsafe to drink” but has not been declared unsafe to use, then you can still use your water for the following activities:

Personal Hygiene: Cyanotoxins don’t easily enter the body through the skin. For that reason, it’s safe to bathe, swim, shower, and even brush your teeth – as long as you do not swallow any of the water.

Washing Dishes, Counters, Floors: Using cyanotoxin-tainted water for cleaning is safe. Only a very tiny amount of water clings to plates, pots, and utensils after cleaning, so it’s safe to wash your dishes or do other home cleaning.

Laundry: Very little water remains after laundry is washed, so it’s safe to use your water for laundry.

Lawn and Garden Irrigation: It’s safe to water your lawn and your garden with your water. Even food-producing gardens can be safely watered, but you must allow food crops irrigated with cyanotoxin-laced water to dry completely in the sun before consuming. Do not allow pets or children to play on wet lawns.

Flushing your home plumbing, and water filtration systems afterward

After your water supply has been declared safe, you need to follow these guidelines to flush the contaminated water from your home. Run hot water taps for 15 minutes, then run cold water for 5 minutes. Do this for every sink, tub, shower, or appliance that was used during the emergency.

Drinking Water Filters: Replace any water filters that are used for drinking water. Flush the water filter system before you install new filters.

Water Softeners: You should manually regenerate your water softener system before you flush your household plumbing and appliances.

Whole Home Filters: There are many different types of whole home water filtration systems. You should contact the manufacturer of your system for specific advice. In general, there are two types of filters:

  • Pressure Filters: Can be backwashed
  • Cartridge Filters: Need to be replaced

Pressure Filters: Flush pressure filters before and after you flush the plumbing in your home.

Cartridge Filters: Replace your filter cartridge after you have flushed the water in your home.

Reverse Osmosis Systems: You need to replace the prefilter(s) in your reverse osmosis system before flushing the system. The membrane filter in your system generally does not need to be replaced, however you should contact the manufacturer of your system to make sure.

Cyanotoxins in Drinking Water: Help is NOT on the Way

Federal authorities and Ohio State authorities know about the agricultural runoff problem in Lake Erie that caused the recent cyanotoxin outbreak, but they have no plans to stop it. The problem is that farmers are using huge amounts of fertilizers, and the runoff from their fertilizers trigger the algae bloom that causes the problem. Many of the farms that are causing the problem are huge farming operations, owned by powerful special interests. These large farm-corporations have been lobbying in Washington and Dayton to make sure nothing is done about the agricultural runoff problem. For this reason, you should expect water problems from cyanotoxins to continue, and even get worse.

Unfortunately, as you can see, there is very little the public can do to protect itself from cyanotoxins. The lack of regulatory action, combined with the limits in water filtration treatment options for homeowners make this a difficult problem to solve.

Need help finding home water filtration? Call us at 877-959-7977 for a free, no obligation water filtration consultation

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