NWO award for research on cyanobacterial control

6 May 2015

Researchers Dr Hans Matthijs and Dr Petra Visser of the University of Amsterdam's (UvA) Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) have received a grant within the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) programme ‘License to operate’, for their research into the use of hydrogen peroxide to control blue-green algae.

In this project, which falls under the NWO priority area Water and Climate, the researchers are seeking to expand and further validate this new water technology. The grant will be used to appoint a postdoc and a PhD student. The project is a collaboration with consultancy and engineering firm Arcadis, hydrogen peroxide manufacturer Kemira, knowledge institute Deltares, drinking water company Evides, the water authority of Schieland and Krimpenerwaard, the Rijnland water authority and the municipality of Zoetermeer.

Importance of safe water

Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) receive negative news coverage in the summer in the Netherlands because of bathing prohibitions imposed in recreational lakes. But safe fresh water is also important as a source of drinking water, as well as for irrigation and fish-breeding. Cyanobacteria begin to dominate when the water contains an excess of nutrients. Existing methods for removing these nutrients are not always an option and are often only effective in the long term. The method Matthijs and Visser are researching introduces low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide homogeneously into the water. While highly effective against the cyanobacteria, the hydrogen peroxide is innocuous to the rest of the ecosystem and it breaks down quickly to form water and oxygen.  

A worldwide problem

There is also a lot of international interest in controlling cyanobacteria in lakes. Recently, Bowling Green State University in the US state of Ohio organised a workshop with the aim of bringing together international expertise in dealing with this worldwide problem. The workshop was a response to the ‘Toledo crisis’ in 2014, when more than half a million people had to go without tap water for several days because of excessively high levels of cyanotoxin caused by flourishing cyanobacteria in Lake Erie. Visser explained the hydrogen peroxide method at this gathering and presented data on its successful application in the Koetshuisplas in Veendam, and was subsequently cited in local newspaper ‘The Blade’.

Water Alliance

Hans Matthijs spoke at the US Algal Toxin Conference 2015 in Akron, Ohio on 29 April. This conference, which was partly organised by the Dutch Water Alliance, examined strategies for resolving and preventing problems that regularly confront water management professionals. There was plenty of interest for the peroxide method at the conference, with several attendees, including the science attaché from the Dutch embassy in Washington, extending their compliments. Arcadis USA has collaborated on a proposal submitted to local water authorities to also start using this Dutch technique, originally developed at the UvA, to control cyanobacteria domination in the Unites States with hydrogen peroxide.

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Published by  Faculty of Science