Algal bloom a problem for drinking water in Sweden

Clean drinking water may become more difficult to guarantee after a bloom in algae this summer.

Algal bloom a problem for drinking water in Sweden
Photo: Kustbevakningen/TT

Toxic blue-green algae, which thrive at higher temperatures, have created problems at waterworks in Sweden, with water purifiers at risk of failing to filter out toxic substances where there are large accumulations of cyanobacteria, P4 Östergötland reports.

Around half of all drinking water in Sweden is sourced from rivers and lakes, according to the National Food Administration (Livsmedelsverket). Municipal treatment works that extract water from these bodies are in need of better equipment to effectively filter toxic algae and analyse samples, according to the report.

“If the algae bloom is very large, waterworks may not be able to filter out all of the toxic substances, which may then end up in drinking water,” National Food Administration chemist Caroline Dirks told P4.

Dirks stressed that levels of toxic substances in drinking water related to the algae have not exceeded permitted safety limits, despite the challenges currently faced by filtration equipment.

Climate change will cause the problem to become more serious in future, Dirks added.

“We have also seen this in other countries, that the problem is getting worse, and that is related to climate change,” she told P4.

Drinking water containing excessive amounts of cyanobacteria can cause can cause stomach problems and liver damage, according to the National Food Administration.

READ ALSO: The impact of Sweden's summer heatwave is visible from space

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Climate change threatens Swedish water cost hike

Sweden could see the costs of tap water rise in the future, said Rural Affairs Minister Eskil Erlandsson, as the government investigates how to secure a plentiful flow under the threat of climate change.

Climate change threatens Swedish water cost hike

“Water will become more expensive and Sweden needs to take action,” said Erlandsson to news agency TT and added that national infrastructure requires more investment and water pipes need improved maintenance.

“In comparison with the rest of Europe, we have cheap water in Sweden. We do see a threat, because of climate change, which means measures must be taken to ensure supply doesn’t dry up in the future.”

A government investigation is underway and is due to conclude findings on climate change impact on the quality and supply of drinking water by mid-2015.

By July next year, however, the report must also present partial proposals on the protection of water sources and how responsibilities should be divided.

Erlandsson admits there is a need to install new filters to prevent water contamination in the northern Swedish cities of Östersund and Skellefteå, and to protect these areas with reserve water supplies.

He also states that the relatively cheap cost of water in Sweden is also a source of the problem. “Yes, because we waste a lot of water,” adding that it leads to issues when dealing with an excess of used water.

The Swedish Water and Wastewater Association (SvensktVatten) states that the rate of investment in water infrastructure needs to grow from today’s five billion kronor per year to between 10-15 billion kronor annually in 20 year’s time.

Infrastructure installed between 1950-1970 must be replaced or renovated to meet today’s standards and Swedes will definitely see the price of water increase in the future.

“In real terms, we are talking about price increases of between 30 to 100 percent over the next 20-25 years,” said the trade organization’s president Lena Söderberg

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