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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes report warns of another Walkerton
CBC Health and Science News
Published September 14th, 2004

WINDSOR, ONT. - Unless water treatment plants are upgraded, millions of people who live around the Great Lakes could face a tainted water disaster like the one in Walkerton, Ont., that killed seven people, a new report warns.

The Great Lakes supply drinking water to 40 million people..
The International Joint Commission released its 12th biennial report on Great Lakes water quality on Monday.

The commission's report to the Canadian and U.S. governments points to a number of ongoing threats to the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water for 40 million people.

"Increases in population, increases in urbanization and increases in factory farming mean that new treatment facilities will have to be developed in addition to what's there already," said Herb Gray, the Canadian co-chair of the commission.

The effects of disease-causing agents like bacteria are another concern for the commission.

"The [Walkerton] incident demonstrates that even one system failure can impose enormous monetary as well as tragic human costs," the report said. "If the U.S. and Canada do not invest in their aging water infrastructure systems, the potential for more outbreaks of waterborne diseases will increase."

This past summer, nearly 900 people reported gastrointestinal illnesses after visiting a tourist island on the American side of Lake Erie.

The cause of the outbreak hasn't been determined but pathogens in the water have been known to cause similar problems before.

Engineers explore treatment options

An international team of researchers is studying ways to use ozone to break down pharmaceuticals in untreated water.

"Ozone is known to be the strongest disinfectant to inactivate pathogens," said Saad Jasim, director of water quality at the Windsor Utilities Commission.

The city of Windsor uses ozone to treat its drinking water, which exceeds safety regulations, Jasim said.

The commission is interested in studying the ozone treatment option, said Gray.

Commission officials also said governments need to protect drinking water from:

Industrial spills.
Airborne mercury and PCBs that are linked to neural development problems.
Invasive species like the zebra mussel.
Antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

The release of the report comes during the first major overhaul in 17 years of the Canada-U.S. water quality agreement, which was first signed in 1978.

Written by CBC News Online staff

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