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Great Lakes Article:

Editorial: All area residents have a role in protecting lake
The News Messenger (OH)
Published December 21st, 2004

Last week's Associated Press report on research into the human impact on Lake Erie should provide a message to all of us.

The fact is that even the small things that we do can have an impact on what is our greatest natural treasure.

Ohio State University scientists plan to look at how the lake affects people by examining issues such as drinking water and the quality of life of the residents along its shores and, more importantly, how people affect the lake.

"We're loving it to death," said OSU biologist David Culver, who is involved in the research with 15 colleagues. "What happens when you double erosion flowing into the lake or a new chemical enters the mix? How do lake organisms react to foreign species?

"What if boating or swimming use is doubled? Should you build a nuclear power plant or a coal-fired plant?

"We want to get at the right questions about the interactions between humans and natural systems."

Experts say that even our own daily activities can affect the lake, said Tim Loftus, director of the Water Quality Laboratory at Heidelberg College in Seneca County.

Scientists and environmentalists claim that Lake Erie is affected when homeowners overapply lawn chemicals, spill gasoline or dump paint or household chemicals. Industrial, home and farm pollution cause beach closings and fishing and drinking water advisories.

Culver said something as innocuous as a sale on farm fertilizer can have an effect.

A few years ago, he said, fertilizer manufacturers began offering winter discounts. Farmers responded by buying fertilizer early and spreading it on fields.

"This phosphorus fertilizer was sitting on top of the soil and spring rains come and there could be a lot of runoff," he said.

By the 1930s, pollution had wiped out whitefish and lake herring in Erie.

Two decades later, sewage and farm and industrial chemicals killed off the lake's mayfly population, which emerged each spring and provided food for fish and birds.

Since the 1970s, there have been steady declines in many toxic and persistent chemicals in the Great Lakes. That, in turn, has meant lower levels of contaminants, including lead, found in humans.

While PCBs and other hazardous chemicals are banned or severely restricted, new classes of chemicals are showing up in the food chain.

On top of the impact of invasive species that has been well documented in recent years, the human impact poses real problems for the lake, its surrounding wetlands and the animals and birds who use it as habitat.

We have encouraged public officials to be determined to protect the lake, which is so important for our quality of life, our health and our economic well-being.

But, as individuals, we can also make a difference.

It all means that we must think about our actions and not discount the impact that even a small amount of pollution can have.

After all, it is part of a much larger picture.

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