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New equipment allows Austin Water to test for cyanobacteria, cyanotoxins in house

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Water is now able to test drinking water for cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins in house without having to use an outside lab.

The utility got new equipment that is able to test raw source water and treated drinking water, thus reducing the wait time for results to 24 hours, rather than several weeks.

The equipment, called FlowCam Cyano, conducts rapid digital imaging analysis of raw water, Austin Water explained. In addition to detecting cyanobacteria, FlowCam will also help technicians monitor water quality by looking for algae and plankton that could cause taste or odor issues for drinking water.

The FlowCam Cyano takes about 15 minutes to analyze water samples, which allows Austin Water to test more frequently.

Additional equipment also allows Austin Water to look for the three most common cyanotoxins named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Anatoxin-a, Cylindrospermopsin and Total Microcystins. Results for cyanotoxins can be produced in less than 24 hours with the new system.

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“We have a team focused on preparing for a cyanotoxin event, who have been implementing strategic plans for more than a year to be ready if the worst were to happen,” said Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros in a press release. “We take this threat very seriously, and I’m proud of the vigilance and proactive measures our laboratory analysts and treatment team have put in place to detect and treat for cyanotoxins.”

Austin Water says it’s been testing for cyanotoxins since 2015 and has been checking for cyanobacteria since the 1990s. Cyanotoxins above the EPA health advisory level have never been found in Austin’s raw water or treated drinking water.

However, Austin Water explained there’s growing concern regarding harmful algal mats in Lake Travis and Lady Bird Lake. So, the water utility has enhanced its treatment protocols based on EPA guidance and is prepared to respond if a high level of cyanotoxins are detected.

Austin Water’s treatment processes now effectively remove cyanobacterial cells, and Austin Water plants are ready to distribute chlorine, Powdered Activated Carbon (PAC) and sodium permanganate to remove cyanotoxins from drinking water, if need be.

Written by Jaclyn Ramkissoon

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