Report: Don't kid yourself - toxins persist in the Great
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
By Sarah Kellogg
WASHINGTON -- Toxic chemical concentrations in the Great
Lakes remain a threat to humans, animals and fish, and
not enough people know of the hazards, a new report concludes.
The draft report was completed by the Scientific Advisory
Board to the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canada
agency that oversees boundary water issues, and will be
officially released next month.
Every two years, the panel of scientists reviews the
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the two countries,
analyzing the state of the Great Lakes and recommending
"The concentration of PCBs and total DDT and its
metabolites in fish and wildlife tissues showed almost
no decline between 1990 and 2000," the report states.
"The concentration of PCBs in Great Lakes fish today
is 40 times above EPA's acceptable level."
DDT is a pesticide, and PCBs are manufactured chemical
compounds that don't burn easily and often are used as
coolants and lubricants. Both chemicals can have toxic
health effects in humans and animals.
The report also concludes that fish advisories have not
been effective enough in warning certain populations about
the dangers of eating Great Lakes fish.
"Women and minorities, two groups advisories were
designed to protect, don't appear to know about the dangers
of contaminated fish," the report says.
Women of child-bearing age are at increased risk, as
are minorities who tend to eat more fish as a staple.
Knowing that, the panel recommends that the IJC modify
its fish advisory advice to the two nations, suggesting
that a single advisory be developed to cover contaminants
such as PCBs, dioxins, pesticides and methylmercury. It
recommends that the advisory be written in plain language
and include nutritional information.
Currently there are multiple advisories on various toxins.
Environmentalists say the report could be a starting
point for negotiations not only between the two countries
but for a public dialogue on protecting the lakes.
"There's a perception out there that toxic chemicals
are under control," said Dr. Ted Schettler, science
director with the Science and Environmental Health Network,
an Iowa-based research group on environmental and health
issues. "The take-home message here ... is that the
problem hasn't gone away."
Dennis Schornack, the U.S. chairman of the IJC, said
he couldn't comment on the specifics of the report, since
it hasn't been released yet.
"This is a board that we've appointed, and we trust
them to deliver to us accurate, scientific information,"
said Schornack, declining further comment.
The report's conclusions and recommendations about toxic
chemicals and fish advisories are just a handful of the
28 recommendations in the report to the IJC. Others include:
# Encouraging both countries to spend more money to clean
up contaminated sediments in the lakes;
# Convening a conference to study the impact of urbanization
on the Great Lakes;
# Investing in research and pilot studies on the removal
of pathogens from wastewater; and
# Targeting flame retardants and their removal from the
A copy of the draft report was given to Booth Newspapers
by the Public Education Center, a nonprofit journalism
center in Washington that tracks environmental issues.
"(The board cites) compelling evidence that contaminants
we've known about for decades -- PCBs, dioxin and mercury
-- are causing increased disease, reduced IQs and other
serious health problems in humans," said Mike Magner,
a researcher with the center. "On top of that, they
warn that a host of other chemicals -- flame retardants,
plastics additives and even cosmetics and health-care
products -- may be compounding those problems."
Environmentalists are focusing attention on the Great
Lakes this week in preparation for an announcement Monday
in Chicago by the Bush administration about its strategy
to clean up the Great Lakes.
Last summer, a group of governors, mayors and environmental
leaders recommended to the president that the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency in conjunction with the states spend
up to $20 billion to clean up and protect the lakes.
The Bush administration announced last month that it
wasn't likely that its Great Lakes strategy would include
a multi-billion financial commitment. Instead officials
are expected to focus on using the dozens of Great Lakes
programs that are in place today to improve the quality
of the lakes.