Toxic Nutrients: The Politics of Harmful Algal Bloom Mitigation in Lake Erie


Each summer, several hundred square miles of Lake Erie’s southwest basin are covered in a toxic pea-green slime that threatens drinking water supplies and depletes oxygen levels within lake waters, causing mass wildlife die-offs. These increasingly common and disruptive events are referred to as harmful algal blooms (HABs) and have been historically associated with the leaching of nutrient fertilizers applied to farm fields in northwest Ohio. There, vast wetlands located within Ottawa Nation territories once stood and regulated the flow of nutrients throughout the landscape, before they were violently cleansed of inhabitants, drained, and converted into the flat agricultural landscapes associated with the region today by white settlers in the mid-19th century. Through careful attention to the infrastructures, knowledges, and histories that interlace Lake Erie’s watershed, this paper considers the relationship of contemporary HAB mitigation efforts carried out by agricultural experts and wetland scientists to longstanding political and material arrangements that have marked the conditions of possibility for life and death throughout the region. Notably, it explores such relations through an analysis of these actors’ engagements with “legacy nutrients”—nutrients which accumulate in farm soils at unknown volumes and dissolve into waterways at rates varying from one year to one century—as they work to develop a comprehensive budgetary model of contemporary nutrient inputs and outputs throughout Lake Erie’s watershed. Ultimately, the paper aims to recuperate an imagination of HABs that thinks beyond embodied encounters with algal toxins and is firmly rooted within contested and lively settler-colonial terrains of harm.


Creative Commons Licence



Contributed date

September 8, 2021 - 3:47am

Critical Commentary

Abstract by Gebby Kenysubmitted to the 4S 2021 Panel Toxic Goodness: Harmful Legacies, Hopeful Futures

Group Audience

Cite as

Gebby Keny, "Toxic Nutrients: The Politics of Harmful Algal Bloom Mitigation in Lake Erie", contributed by Duygu Kasdogan, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 8 September 2021, accessed 19 August 2022.