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Lack of action on toxins threatening Great Lakes, report says

By Dave Battagello, The Windsor Star, June 22, 2015

Not nearly enough is being done to address a growing variety of chemicals and toxins in the Great Lakes, said a report released Monday by the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was introduced in 2012 to help both Canada and the U.S. work together to address issues of concern on the waterway — including identification of chemicals of mutual concern, known as Annex 3. There was to be introduction of action plans to address the problem.

But in the years since hardly anything has been accomplished in regards to toxins, said Fe de Leon, a researcher for the environmental law association who helped with the report.

“We are lagging behind in dealing with the threat of chemical pollution in the Great Lakes,” she said. “The framework implemented by both governments has good intentions, but they are not taking enough action and it’s crippling us in terms of the Great Lakes.”

Mercury and PCBs have for decades been identified as primary sources of concern in the waterway, but the association’s research has found 500 known chemicals of concern in the Great Lakes.

There has been no identification yet by government bodies on either side of the border to identify any of those as troublesome, let alone implementing a plan to address the toxins.

“We are not taking action fast enough in terms of what we already know,” de Leon said. “There needs to be more comprehensive binational efforts.”

Too often the solution remains setting limits on toxin levels in the Great Lakes when instead there should be legislation that stops their release into the Great Lakes, she said.

Much more needs to be done in substituting “green” or environmentally friendly chemicals in place of those which are harmful to the waterway, wildlife and people, de Leon said.

Failure to act and ongoing foot-dragging on the issue could have “dire consequences” for the Great Lakes — recognized as the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world.

The Great Lakes Agreement executive committee is scheduled to meet for two days in Chicago starting Wednesday and de Leon hopes the toxin issue will be tackled.

“We need commitment by government and industry to shift away from hazardous materials to something newer,” she said. “Look at and address these chemicals in the front end, rather than the back-end when it’s too late and we have to react (to them already being in the water).”

Derek Coronado, of the Citizens Environment Alliance in Windsor, expressed disappointment Monday how several years after the Great Lakes water quality agreement was signed there remains “no progress” on Annex 3 and toxins.

“We are frustrated they are reinventing the wheel which is slowing down the process,” he said. “The most important problem with Annex 3 is how the issues brought forward on chemicals are not really adhering to the principles of the agreement.”

Too many chemicals are being set aside because of insufficient data, Coronado said.

“They focus of precautions and then do nothing,” he said. “The whole point of the agreement was action-based and that’s not happening on toxins.”

The concerns raised by the environmental law association and the report need to be addressed, Coronado said.

“Science happens and there are new chemicals being released all the time in the environment,” he said. “They are proceeding so slow they are falling behind in taking action — and falling behind on public safety.”

By addressing concerns raised in the report — starting this week in Chicago — the assessment process can be improved “and we can have a speedier process dealing with this,” Coronado said.

The next step needs to see the most dangerous chemicals and toxins removed or substituted from the manufacturing process, he said.

“If you are focusing on the end of the (sewer) pipe, by then it’s too late,” Coronado said.

dbattagello@windsorstar.com

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