Author(s): B C Hitzfeld, S J Hger, D R Dietrich
Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) produce toxins that may present a hazard for drinking water safety. These toxins (microcystins, nodularins, saxitoxins, anatoxin-a, anatoxin-a(s), cylindrospermopsin) are structurally diverse and their effects range from liver damage, including liver cancer, to neurotoxicity. The occurrence of cyanobacteria and their toxins in water bodies used for the production of drinking water poses a technical challenge for water utility managers. With respect to their removal in water treatment procedures, of the more than 60 microcystin congeners, microcystin-LR (L, L-leucine; R, L-arginine) is the best studied cyanobacterial toxin, whereas information for the other toxins is largely lacking. In response to the growing concern about nonlethal acute and chronic effects of microcystins, the World Health Organization has recently set a new provisional guideline value for microcystin-LR of 1.0 microg/L drinking water. This will lead to further efforts by water suppliers to develop effective treatment procedures to remove these toxins. Of the water treatment procedures discussed in this review, chlorination, possibly micro-/ultrafiltration, but especially ozonation are the most effective in destroying cyanobacteria and in removing microcystins. However, these treatments may not be sufficient during bloom situations or when a high organic load is present, and toxin levels should therefore be monitored during the water treatment process. In order to perform an adequate human risk assessment of microcystin exposure via drinking water, the issue of water treatment byproducts will have to be addressed in the future.