in Great Lakes rising, study says
By Martin Mittelstaedt
Toronto Globe and Mail
Published by the Scripps Howard News Service on February
TORONTO -- Despite decades of effort cleaning up the
Great Lakes, industrial discharges of water pollutants
into the lakes are rising in both Canada and the United
States, according to a new report.
The upswing has been pronounced, with the amount of dangerous
pollutants soaring 21 percent between 1998 and 2002. Discharges
rose 23 percent at U.S. companies and 13 percent at Canadian
ones, said the report by Environmental Defense and the
Canadian Environmental Law Association.
The largest releases were of corrosive nitric acid and
nitrates, compounds that trigger algae and seaweed growth.
But the discharges also included ethylene glycol, a poisonous
solvent, and metals, including nickel, chromium and manganese.
The finding is unexpected because companies have spent
billions of dollars trying to clean up the environment,
and water quality in the lakes has improved dramatically
since the late 1960s and early 1970s.
But environmentalists say the new figures suggest that
complacency about the health of the lakes, the largest
body of fresh water in the world and the source of drinking
water for about 24 million people, is misplaced.
"We have not solved the water-pollution problem,"
said Paul Muldoon of the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
The reasons are not clear. The report suggested its figures
underestimated the amount of pollution entering the lakes
because not all companies must divulge their releases.
Because Canada and the United States have different disclosure
laws, the figures did not include emissions from municipal
sewage plants, another large source of contaminants.
Muldoon said a likely factor behind the increase is that
industries released more pollutants as their output grew.
He said that if rising economic output is behind the
increase, companies should have to invest some of their
extra revenue in pollution controls.
The largest water polluter on the lakes in 2002 was a
U.S. Steel Corp. plant in Gary, Ind., that discharges
effluent into Lake Michigan. The largest Canadian polluter
was an Imperial Oil refinery in Sarnia that discharges
into the St. Clair River.
The groups say their report is the first comprehensive
look at industrial pollution trends in the Great Lakes
region in about a decade. Environment Canada undertook
a similar study based on data from the early 1990s.
Governments stopped extensive monitoring of pollutant
releases because the Great Lakes were believed to be returning
to good health. But if discharges are rising again, the
lack of scrutiny is misplaced, according to one of those
who worked on the report. The failure of governments to
compile this data is "a real indictment of the lack
of attention being paid to Great Lakes issues," said
Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defense.