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Great Lakes Article:

Religious Perspective: We must protect our beautiful lakes
By Miriam Porter
Canadian Jewish News
Published June 21, 2005

“God led Adam around all the trees of the Garden of Eden. And God said to Adam, ‘See my works, how good and praiseworthy they are? And all that I have created I made for you. But be mindful then that you do not spoil and destroy my world, for if you spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it’” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13, eighth century CE).

Judaism has a balanced and rational approach to environmental issues that could be a source of pride to Jews and an inspiration to everyone. However, our relationship with nature is fragile, delicate, and needs our immediate attention.

On the news recently, the weather reporter listed Toronto area beaches that were safe for swimming. Beaches not on the list – which changes daily due to pollution levels – were considered unsafe and swimming was not permitted.

Water pollution is a change in the chemical, physical and biological health of a waterway due to human activity. Ways that humans have affected the quality of the Great Lakes over the centuries include sewage disposal, toxic contamination with heavy metals and pesticides, over-development of the water’s edge, runoff from agriculture and urbanization, and air pollution.

Pollution puts the ecosystem out of balance and causes serious destruction to nature, animals and humans. Water pollution is caused in part by the disposal of waste into a river or lake. In large or small amounts, dumped intentionally or accidentally, it may get carried away by the current, but it doesn’t disappear. It reappears downstream, sometimes in changed form or just diluted.

When I lived in the United States in the 1990s and drove by Exxon gas stations, the shocking image of helpless ducks covered in oil invaded my thoughts. On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled approximately 11 million gallons of oil – equivalent to 125 Olympic-sized swimming pools – in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska. The spill was accidental, but the results of this environmental tragedy were horrific.

The oil spread slowly over open water during three days of flat calm seas. The estimated death toll from the spill was 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs.

I never filled up my car with Exxon’s gasoline.

It’s now 2005. The current water pollution statistics for the Great Lakes are devastating. Have we not learned anything from the Exxon Valdez spill?

Canadian Press reported on June 8, that “despite government claims pollution is decreasing, a new study says Canada released a billion kilograms of toxic chemicals annually in the Great Lakes basin from 1998 to 2002, with no significant decline. Most of the chemicals were released into the air – now recognized as the biggest source of pollution affecting the lakes – by industries and public utilities. The load in 2002 included three million kilograms of carcinogens and almost 2,000 kilograms of mercury.”

Other sources report that water pollution in the Great Lakes is causing severe damage to the aquatic environment and to our health. Contaminated drinking water has caused sickness and deaths, not to mention that many of our fish are poisoned with chemicals, and sediment at the bottom of the lakes is becoming increasingly toxic.

Our water is being polluted by municipal, agricultural and industrial waste, including many toxic synthetic chemicals that can’t be broken down by natural processes. Some factories take large amounts of water from Lake Ontario, and after using it, dump it back into the lake with high levels of mercury. Soaps and cleaners with harsh chemicals also add to the destruction of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world. The Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty designed to decrease global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, might help to change this.

It is our obligation to prevent further damage to our beautiful lakes – because there is no one else to repair them.

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