A Plea to Keep the Great Lakes Clean
Article Courtesy of the Edmonton Journal
Friday, October 05, 2001
Ottawa should respond promptly and constructively to
the report of Johanne Gélinas, commissioner of the environment
and sustainable development, which details the faltering
efforts to protect the Great Lakes and the entire basin
draining into the St. Lawrence River.
For several decades, these water bodies were polluted
by industry, farms and human sewage until they "reached
a crisis point in the 1970s," Gélinas states in her
annual report, released Tuesday.
While they have "improved dramatically," she rates
four of the lakes, plus the St. Lawrence, as "mixed,"
while Lake Erie is "mixed deteriorating."
Gélinas makes 40 recommendations to revive government
commitments to research and action.
David Schindler, Killam memorial professor of ecology
at the University of Alberta, says study of new chemical
pollutants is especially needed.
An Environment Canada pollution monitoring manager
recently claimed the lakes "are much cleaner than they
have been over the last 50 years," partly because of
restricted pesticide use.
But Schindler says the lakes are receiving "a whole
new suite of chemicals," including some with properties
similar to dangerous PCBs.
Their concentration is unknown, he says. So is their
effect, individually and in combination.
Schindler rates the auditor-general's office, where
Gélinas works, as "the best federal government agency."
But he adds: "I don't think other departments give
their reports the attention they deserve."
Gélinas's report implies a similar pessimism, urging
better protection while noting "a sense of complacency,
not urgency; resignation, not inspiration."
Our country is an object of envy around the world,
for its immense fresh water supply.
We would deserve to be an object of international ridicule
if we ignored Gélinas's call to revive and sustain a
commitment to cleaner water in the Great Lakes and St.