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Toxins in water cause emergency

Toxins possibly from algae on Lake Erie fouled the water supply of the Ohio city of Toledo Saturday, forcing officials to issue warnings not to drink the water and the governor to declare a state of emergency as worried residents descended on stores, quickly clearing shelves of bottled water.

The city advised about 400,000 residents in Toledo, most of its suburbs and a few areas in southeastern Michigan not to brush their teeth with or boil the water because that would only increase the toxin's concentration. Showers and baths are fine, the mayor said.

Toledo issued the warning just after midnight after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption.

Gov. John Kasich's emergency order will allow the state to begin bringing water into the Toledo area.

Toledo leaders were setting up water distribution centres around the city, limiting families to one case of bottled water. Some stores that were receiving new shipments of water putting limits on how much people can buy.

Mayor D. Michael Collins said at a news conference that city officials hope to know later Saturday how long the warning will stay in place, and he pleaded with residents not to panic. There were no reports yet of people becoming sick from drinking the water, Collins said.

Sample of water were flown to the federal and state Environmental Protection Agency offices in Cincinnati and Columbus for additional testing, officials said.

Police officers were called to stores as residents lined up to buy bottled water, bags of ice and flavoured water.

Some neighbouring communities that aren't connected to Toledo's water system were offering their water to people who brought their own bottles and containers.

The city's advisory said Lake Erie may have been affected by a bloom of harmful algae that produces the toxin. Consuming the tainted water could result in vomiting, diarrhea and other problems.

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