Lakes Article: Fish
May 25, 2009
pharmaceuticals are threatening health of the Great Lakes
Water, water, everywhere.
is it fit to drink?
Trent University professor Tom Whillans still keeps
a copy of a newspaper headline from 1978: "Lake Erie dead," it proclaimed.
certainly shown progress cleaning up the sensitive Great Lakes basin since then,
"One of the problems we have is complacency. People think
that we have changed things a lot. It's OK now.
"Well, it's not. It's
just a heck of a lot better than it was."
Whillans is involved in Great
Lakes rehabilitation, especially in remedial work that has been done on the 40
chronically polluted "areas of concern," that were identified as in
need of cleanup.
He's also a Canadian adviser to the Great Lakes Fishery
"There are major successes and there are also major areas
that still need attention," he said. So far, two Canadian sites have been
delisted as areas of concern -- Collingwood and Severn Sound. Hamilton has also
shown great progress in addressing some of its problems.
"It has huge
problems that are associated with 200 years of abuse and you don't solve those
things in 10 years," Whillans said.
One of the big improvements is
in sewage management, especially phosphorous, which is the nutrient that causes
the most reactions in the biology of the lake.
It was the focus of the Great
Lakes Water Quality Agreement signed in 1972.
"All of the lakes are
showing signs of having recovered from that," Whillans said. While there
have been improvements in most urban areas, there are still concerns about rural
sources such as agriculture.
Dave Ullrich, is a spokesman for the Great
Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. Founded by Toronto Mayor David Miller
and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, the organization is made up of mayors from 62
cities around the Great Lakes, 38 Canadian and 24 in the U.S.
federal and provincial governments need to step up the the plate when it comes
to rebuilding municipal infrastructure systems to deal with sewage.
on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence were some of the earliest settled. There are
a lot of old sewers in those cities, built many years ago and for a smaller population
and when not so much of the shoreline was paved," he points out.
2006 study done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency across the eight Great
Lakes states showed a $73 billion wastewater infrastructure deficit.
well, new and emerging chemicals are developed every day and no one knows what
environmental impact they will have on the Great Lakes. He's hoping some of the
economic stimulus money that has been pledged on both sides of the border will
go into building better sewer systems to better treat the waste that's dumped
into the lakes.
"Our cities are interested in, and moving forward with,
aggressive water conservation programs," Ullrich said.
that even though we have the largest body of surface water in the world, that
we need to be good stewards of it."
One big headache is the ever increasing
amount of pharmaceuticals and personal care products that are finding their ways
into our lakes and rivers.
Trent University professor Chris Metcalfe says
that in 2003, pharmaceuticals were detected in various parts of the Great Lakes.
are most likely to be found in Hamilton and Toronto harbours, or off the various
rivers that flow into Lake Ontario.
Non-prescription drugs such as acetaminophen
or ibuprophen are found most frequently. Occasionally, prescription drugs such
as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, heart medication and antidepressants have
There are also fears about the effects birth control pills
and estrogen may have on fish species.
Even if pills aren't dumped into
the wastewater system, estrogen passes easily through the human body and into
the sewage system. Scientists worry about the effect of birth control pills and
estrogen on fish species. While the drugs have only been found in small quantities,
they are very potent drugs, Metcalfe points out.
"Certainly our previous
work has shown that in some locations in the Great Lakes you have some evidence
of feminization of fish," Metcalfe said.
The active ingredient in birth
control pills, as well as natural estrogen and some chemicals that can mimic estrogen,
may all be contributing to the feminization of fish, Metcalfe said. The reproductive
organs of male fish become deformed to the point where the species may not be
able to reproduce.
"There is enough information starting to come in
now that some populations of fish are starting to be impacted by pharmaceuticals,"
"We studied the white perch and we noticed that the
gonads, the reproductive tissue of the male, had some immature egg cells in them
which are indicative of feminization."
Fragrances that are used in
perfumes, underarm deodorants, detergents, as well as antibacterial compounds
added to toothpaste and mouthwash have also been found.
He says European
countries have invested heavily in wastewater treatment and Canada needs to do
"That's a difficult thing, because all municipalities are
strapped for cash. But I think both provincial and federal governments have a
responsibility to make sure that municipalities are treating waste water to the
And he warns consumers to be careful how they dispose of
unwanted or out-of-date medication. Don't dump it down the toilet.
is more call now for more programs to safely dispose of out-of-date drugs or drugs
that people don't need.
"Some municipalities across Canada have begun
to start up programs for the safe disposal of drugs," he said.
from our Great Lake water. We fish in it. Sometimes we swim in it. It is our pure,
We need to be sure we are good stewards of this precious
liquid. It's in short supply, and the stocks are dwindling.