AWWA and Water Research Foundation Publish Cyanotoxins Guidance for Water Utilities

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The American Water Works Association and the Water Research Foundation have released a guide and additional resources to help water professionals detect and control cyanotoxins, the algae-related contaminants that can negatively affect drinking water quality.

“Managing Cyanotoxins in Drinking Water: A Technical Guidance Manual for Drinking Water Professionals” provides information to utility professionals on the preparation, treatment, and response to cyanotoxins concerns. An accompanying manual, “A Water Utility Manager’s Guide to Cyanotoxins” was released in April 2015.  Both documents are available for free download from both the AWWA and WRF websites. 

Additionally, AWWA and WRF have recently released additional resources designed to assist the utility community with understanding, planning for, and responding to cyanotoxins events. The recently launched WRF video, Understanding Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins, provides a utility perspective on the latest in source water protection, monitoring, detection and treatment of cyanotoxins. Additional WRF resources can be found in the Cyanotoxins Knowledge Portal.

The AWWA report, “Cyanotoxins in US Drinking Water: Occurrence, Case Studies and State Approaches to Regulation,” summarizes available state data on occurrence and the strategies employed by the states to respond to cyanotoxins incidents. A suite of additional tools and reports on cyanotoxins are available on the AWWA Cyanotoxins Resource Page.

Cyanotoxins typically arise from cyanobacteria — often referred to as blue-green algae — in lakes and reservoirs and can affect drinking water quality, particularly taste and odor. While health effects from drinking water contaminated by cyanotoxins are not well understood, potential negative health impacts of prolonged or very high exposures include liver, nervous system and gastrointestinal problems.

These cyanotoxin resources come as the federal government considers how to address cyanotoxins from both regulatory and legislative perspectives. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued drinking water health advisories in 2015 for water utilities and states to use as they take steps to protect communities from algal toxins. The EPA has developed an Algal Toxin Strategic Plan that outlines approaches and projects that will control and manage algal toxins in source water and treat algal toxins in drinking water. Additionally, the EPA has released a pre-publication copy of its proposed Fourth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, which includes 10 cyanotoxins/groups.

“As this challenging issue becomes more widespread, utility leaders are increasingly looking for reasonable solutions,” says AWWA CEO David LaFrance. “These materials take the lessons that we have already learned and make them accessible to the entire sector.” 

“Cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins need to be managed from the source water to the treatment process," says Robert Renner, WRF CEO. “These resources will help water utility managers and staff apply best practices to tackle this growing problem.” 

About AWWA 
Established in 1881, the American Water Works Association is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most important resource. With about 50,000 members, AWWA provides solutions to improve public health, protect the environment, strengthen the economy and enhance our quality of life.

About the Water Research Foundation
The Water Research Foundation is a leading not-for-profit research cooperative that advances the science of water to protect public health and the environment. Governed by utilities, WRF plans, manages and delivers scientifically sound research solutions on the most critical challenges facing the water community in the areas of drinking water, wastewater, stormwater and reuse. Over the past 50 years, WRF has sponsored nearly 1,500 research projects valued at $500 million, and serves more than 1,000 subscribing organizations. For more information, go to


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