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Great Lakes Article:

Biological Pollution Threatens Great Lakes
Minneapolis Star Tribune
07/09/03



WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While industrial pollution of the Great Lakes has diminished and overall water quality has improved, new forms of biological pollution such as zebra mussels and Asian carp are threatening the lakes, a government scientist said in a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday.

The mixed review of efforts to clean up the Great Lakes came from a panel of federal, state and nongovernmental scientists organized under the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference, which includes Canada, Minnesota and seven other Great Lakes states.

"We've still probably got a long way to go in figuring out how to solve those problems," said Paul Horvatin, of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago.

On the plus side, scientists see self-sustaining lake trout stocks in Lake Superior, successful nesting programs for bald eagles, a general decline in toxic substances such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and lower levels of phosphorus in all the lakes except Lake Erie.

On the minus side, non native and invasive species constitute a growing threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem, prey-fish populations are down in some parts of the lakes, and E. coli and fecal coliform levels remain a problem in some near-shore recreational waters, particularly in Lake Erie.

Moreover, future population and development pressures are likely to tax the lakes' overall biodiversity, said John Andersen, director of the Nature Conservancy's Great Lakes Program.

"Biodiversity is the foundation of everything we enjoy in the Great Lakes," he said.

Though toxin levels in the lakes have been reduced since the 1972 Clean Water Act and the 1976 ban on PCBs, all five Great Lakes continue to have fish advisories.

For example, the Minnesota Health Department recommends no more than one meal per month of medium-sized Lake Trout or Chinook Salmon caught in Lake Superior.

Much of the concern behind those advisories are PCB levels in fish, though those levels are declining in Lake Superior, the most pristine of the Great Lakes.

"For Lake Superior, in general, the advice has become less restrictive," said Patricia McCann, of the Health Department's Health Risk Assessment Unit.

But mercury levels and new emerging contaminants remain an unknown in Lake Superior and the other lakes, prompting calls for a more coordinated effort to monitor their overall health.

A recent General Accounting Office report said that the states' efforts to track pollution threats are largely inconsistent and uncoordinated and that the EPA lacks the authority to impose an overarching Great Lakes strategy.

Legislation introduced in May by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., authorizes $28 million over four years for a coordinated EPA monitoring program. "There has to be a central effort," Levin spokeswoman Amber Jones said.

Levin's bill is being championed by the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan group that sponsored Tuesday's Capitol briefing.

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