Algal bloom: The latest challenge for Israeli water technology

By Jacob Kamaras

Water is the essence of life. Increasingly, Israel is the essence of innovation.

It’s only natural, then, that a scientist and entrepreneur from the “Startup Nation” is pioneering a solution for the growing worldwide problem of harmful algal blooms.

This microorganism blocks off sunlight and oxygen to water, causing loss of aquatic plants and fish. The algae are also toxic to humans, limiting precious water for drinking, irrigation and recreation, as the toxic scourge can cause cancer and purportedly Alzheimer’s disease. In the American Midwest and several other regions, algal bloom has caused water-treatment plants to close.

More than 700 square miles of Lake Erie were covered by algal bloom in 2017. American farms and ranch water reservoirs are contaminated, making the water unfit for plants and animals alike. The issue is back in the news after Congress, in late December, passed legislation to expand federal funding opportunities for communities affected by harmful algal blooms.

A toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie in 2009. .

This past summer, Florida Gov. Rick Scott had declared a state of emergency as algal bloom wreaked havoc on the state’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Okeechobee. The lake was closed for recreational use, causing a loss of millions of tourist dollars. Florida’s Atlantic beaches were covered with thousands of dead fish as a mass of slimy cyanobacteria approached its coasts. This cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

Internationally, the cost is in the tens of billions of dollars. As the earth warms and the use of fertilizers and pesticides continues, the problem will only get worse.

Until now, there hasn’t been an effective, safe, economical treatment for algal bloom. Treatment options have included pouring hundreds of tons of chemicals into the water or scooping up the slimy upper part of the water. All of the options have been expensive, labor-intensive and harmful for the environment.

Yet a young Israeli microbiologist, Dr. Moshe Harel, who earned his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has developed a treatment that is revolutionizing the approach to algal bloom and gives hope that the problem can be controlled. His startup, BlueGreen Water Technologies, has produced a technology called Lake Guard™, which has secured U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, approval as well as the prestigious NSF60 standard for drinking water. It has been used in Israel since 2018 for agriculture and by the country’s national water carrier. BlueGreen Water’s products are now available in the United States, in addition to China, Russia, South Africa and other countries.

With Harel’s patented technology, the EPA-approved product floats on the water, kills the cyanobacteria in the top layer of the water and dissipates into the environment. Depending on the size of the body of water and extent of the problem, the water is again ready for use in just a few days.

So far, the products have only been tested in freshwater bodies, but Harel plans a pilot to treat saltwater bodies soon.

Israel, once again, to the rescue.