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Great Lakes Article:

Pollution in Great Lakes rising, study says
By Martin Mittelstaedt
Toronto Globe and Mail
Published by the Scripps Howard News Service on February 9, 2006

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.

 

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