The last decade has seen a rapid increase of cyanobacteria – popularly known as blue-green algae – in the world’s waterways. The largest cause of cyanobacteria is high levels of nutrients like phosphates and nitrogen, which provide the energy that fuels its growth. Runoff from farms and agriculture is a leading cause of these nutrients.
Cyanobacteria is harmful to humans and the environment in a number of ways. The most dangerous aspect is that it produces a neurotoxin called microcystin, which can be fatal. It can also affect drinking water’s taste and safety. In 2014, one city in Ohio had to tell residents not to drink tap water for a week due to a heavy influx of cyanobacteria.
Cyanobacteria has historically proven to be difficult and expensive to treat. However, within the past 20 years, research has shown that superoxide (SO) molecules can economically and effectively remove both cyanobacteria and microcystin from water supplies.
SO’s ability to degrade cyanobacteria was first demonstrated in 1997 (Shephard), and it was also determined that SO destroyed microcystin. Investigation showed that cyanobacterial death by cell lyses happened in less than 5 minutes. Cell lyses occurs when the cell membrane is destroyed, which causes the rapid death of the cell.
SO is considered a reactive oxygen species. These groups of molecules can cause oxidative damage unless a living organism has enzymes capable of dismutating it to a benign state. Most living organisms have this enzyme, called super oxide dismutase (SOD). As long as an organism produces SOD, SO can be ingested or inhaled with no harmful effects.
The most direct way to apply SO for water supplies is with the KRIA Ionizer, a portable machine whose technology can treat large bodies of water such as reservoirs without producing secondary pollutants.
The ionizer was lab-tested on cyanobacteria in 2014 (Medina) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Water heavily infested with cyanobacteria from Lake Erie and Clear Lake in California was treated with SO from the KRIA Ionizer. A 5-minute treatment cleared the water of both cyanobacteria and microcystin. The earliest public treatment of cyanobacteria occurred in Tokyo in 2001 at Ueno Park Zoo. In addition to eliminating cyanobacteria, phosphate and nitrogen levels were also greatly lowered to more normal levels.