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Great Lakes Article:

Report: Don't kid yourself - toxins persist in the Great Lakes

Tuesday, December 6, 2005
By Sarah Kellogg
Washington Bureau

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 changes.

"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 lakes.

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.



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