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Advisories on Great Lakes inconsistent, group reports
By John C. Kuehner
Plain Dealer
03/11/04


Ohio and five other Great Lakes states measure water quality differently, which leaves boaters, swimmers and anglers at risk, an environmental group said Wednesday.

The nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project released a report concluding that beaches and fish considered to be safe in one state may not necessarily be considered so in another. The group says that Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin use inconsistent methods and that uniform fishing and swimming advisories are needed.

"I don't think it's too much to ask that the yardsticks they are using to measure water quality are objective and consistent across the states," said Ilan Levin, the report's author. "I think people expect the information they are getting from government officials is accurate and they can rely on it. But that's not the case."

Levin looked at biannual water quality monitoring reports filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2002. They were compared, and inconsistencies were found, he said.

That's not a new problem, or just a state problem, Levin said. It is also a failure with the U.S. EPA, which presents a distorted and blurred picture of water quality based on state reports.

No state stands out as having more strict or lax methods. Some are stronger in monitoring water quality at beaches than they are at monitoring for pollution in fish, he said.

Ohio is a national leader for measuring the presence and diversity of fish, bugs and other aquatic life in water, which is an important indicator of water quality. But Ohio's fish consumption warnings are weaker than Michigan's.

Michigan warns its residents not to eat carp or catfish of any size if caught in Lake Erie. It also warns women and children not to eat whitefish of any size if caught in Lake Erie.

But Ohio warns people not to eat Lake Ere catfish longer than 16 inches. Smaller catfish can be eaten six times a year, the state says, and a meal of carp or whitefish can be eaten monthly.

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Linda Oros said the state has a good water quality program.

But one thing to remember is that fish move from one location to another.

"If I catch the same species of fish standing on a shoreline right next to you, it is entirely possible that it has followed a different course to get to that spot, and has an entirely different chemical absorption than a fish swimming right beside it," she said.

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