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Pollution testing ship to mark Earth Day next to historic Old Fort Niagara
BILL MICHELMORE
News Niagara Bureau
04/21/2002


YOUNGSTOWN - The Lake Guardian, the largest pollution monitoring vessel on the Great Lakes, is scheduled to dock at the U.S. Coast Guard pier here Monday after spending the past week smelling the air.

The docking next to Old Fort Niagara will coincide with the 32nd annual observation of Earth Day.

The floating laboratory, which is owned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and has nine scientists on board, has been testing the air above the lake for pollutants that can affect fish and other aquatic life in the lake. The ship covered a similar course last summer testing the water for contaminants.

The data collected from testing the water and air will be available by the end of the year, officials said.

"We feel this will help us in our continuing efforts to bring Lake Ontario back to ecological health," said Michael J. Basile, the EPA's public information officer in Niagara Falls.

Cleanup operations to repair the ecological damage of a century of development and pollution along the shores of the Great Lakes and the Niagara River have been under way for the past 15 years.

In 1987, the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Conservation teamed up with their Canadian counterparts, Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, to detect the problems and halt the decline of fish, plant and wildlife in and around the lakes.

"We have achieved considerable success in restoring Lake Ontario and the Niagara River ecosystems, but there is still a lot that has to be done," said Donald Zelazny, the DEC's Great Lakes programs coordinator.

"Looking back to 1987, we knew we had a long way to go," said Basile. "We're still on that journey."

Leading the way is the 1,700-ton Lake Guardian, ironically a former offshore oil field vessel. Its mission is to gather information on the chemical and biological conditions of the lakes and to monitor the concentrations of pollutants in the sediment at the bottom, in the water and in the air.

The ship, based in Bay City. Mich., left Rochester a week ago with a crew of 11, scientists from three state universities, three permanent laboratories and highly sophisticated analytical instruments.

The scientists, from Oswego and Fredonia state colleges and Clarkson University, spent the week studying how much air pollution is being carried into the lake from wind, rain and snow.

The 180-foot-long ship can also carry up to eight portable labs, which can also be set up on land, to test just about any pollution known to man, Basile said.

"The Lake Guardian belongs to us all," said Basile. "When it goes to work, we all benefit."

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