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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes panel identifies 7 themes in pollution report
By Tom Henry
Toledo Blade
01/28/04


Seven air pollution themes affecting the Great Lakes region were identified yesterday for the United States and Canada by an international government panel known for its outspoken views on the environment.

The report, issued by the U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission, aims to synthesize far-reaching and complex scientific data in layman’s terms. In doing so, the commission hopes to inspire the two nations - and all their multiple state and local jurisdictions - to get on the same page in terms of addressing fish-consumption advisories and other health impacts.

"The messages need to be consistent," said John McDonald, an IJC staffer who serves as secretary to the commission’s international air quality advisory board.

The IJC, best known for forging a U.S.-Canada agreement in 1972 that led to many of the region’s modern sewage controls and industrial limits on water pollution discharges, draws from such advisory boards in helping the two countries create policy for resolving boundary water issues.

The new report says, among other things, that the threat of mercury emissions is as great as ever. And, contrary to some previous efforts, its focus goes beyond the traditional sources of that pollutant - coal-fired power plants in the Midwest - by drawing attention to emissions coming from as far away as Asia.

"We’re more and more aware that some of our pollution is coming into North America from other areas, particularly the Far East," Mr. McDonald said. "The board doesn’t want at all to detract from efforts in North America. But we’re all aware that China is an emerging economy."

The inclusion of such material speaks to the notion of how many airborne pollutants can have a global impact. It also could help build a case for exporting some of North America’s pollution-control technology overseas, he said.

Regional smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions have shown hardly any decline over the past decade, despite millions spent to improve coal plants. There are more people, requiring power plants to generate more energy. Plus, there are more vehicles on the road, he said.

Acid rain - long a sore point in U.S.-Canada relations - has gotten worse in some parts of eastern Canada. The term refers to precipitation that is overly acidic because of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emitted from Midwestern sources.

"There are pretty compelling reasons for both the Great Lakes’ ecological health and our own health for addressing these pollutants," Kurt Waltzer, of the Ohio Environmental Council, said. The activist group is among Ohio’s most vocal on air pollution issues.

Mr. Waltzer said he was pleased the report addressed some small, traditionally overlooked sources such as diesel-powered construction equipment, plus emissions from some other vehicles, such as boats, ships, and planes.

Declines in some persistent toxic chemicals are being offset by other pollutants, the report said.

"The pollutant that really leapt out is ammonia. There’s a good deal of it in the environment," Mr. McDonald said. He said it is increasing in the United States, particularly the Midwest.

Excessive amounts of ammonia can cause algae.

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