New Great Lakes
plan is fishy
April, Christie Whitman, administrator of the Environmental
Protection Agency, announced Great Lakes Strategy 2002,
"a new plan to clean up and restore the Great Lakes."
The plan sets specific goals and calls for federal, state
and local officials to work more closely together "to
advance Great Lakes protection and restoration efforts."
groups did cartwheels, federal and state officials were
cautiously optimistic and liberals complained it didn't
go "far enough." Those of us familiar with government
efforts to clean and protect the Great Lakes, though,
see Strategy 2002 as just more political rhetoric.
the Great Lakes need a grand new restoration plan, why
were no federal dollars allocated for a cleanup? What
is the truth about all the contaminants that we read about
in the press?
principal targets of past Great Lakes cleanup plans were
PCBs and DDT. However, total PCB and DDT concentrations
in Great Lakes sport fish have declined dramatically since
monitoring began in the late 1970s. As PCB levels in Great
Lakes sport fish fell, government regulators changed the
definition of safe from 5.0 parts per million in the 1980s
to 2.0 ppm by the mid-1990s.
levels in Great Lakes sport fish continued to decline,
thanks to regulation and technological improvements. So
in 2001, bureaucrats reduced PCB action levels in the
Great Lakes to just .05 ppm, even though the 42 other
states in the union are still at 2.0 ppm. Even so, Great
Lakes sport fish are now coming close to the .05 ppm standard.
were characterized as probable human carcinogens based
in part on a 1975 study by Renate Kimbrough of rats fed
large quantities of PCBs. Kimbrough's latest study, published
in the March 1999 issue of a peer-reviewed medical journal,
is the largest-ever human study of occupational exposure
to PCBs. It found no association between PCBs and deaths
from cancer and any other disease. Yet the nation's fish
eaters and politicians have not been made aware of these
as PCB levels become vanishingly small and evidence of
their adverse health effects is discredited, federal regulators
decide to focus on a different theoretical health threat:
mercury. At high levels of exposure, mercury can be toxic,
but the same is true of every substance, even water. Mercury
exists naturally in the environment, though it also can
be released through industrial emissions. What matters
is the dose.
released in 2000 by the National Academy of Sciences,
based on hair samples collected when mothers gave birth,
found mercury concentrations ranging from 0.5 ppm to 27
ppm, with no adverse effects in their children. The academy
found "little evidence" that low-dose pre-natal
mercury exposure affects children.
scientists said that for most people, the nutritional
and other benefits of eating fish outweigh the risk, particularly
if people follow consumption advisories. Nevertheless,
the EPA's "safe" level of mercury exposure is
based on a maternal hair level of about 11 ppm, less than
half the level determined to be safe in the NAS study.
Even this level is well above what anyone is likely to
accumulate by eating fish.
Great Lakes water quality has improved, Great Lakes states
have increased the number of fish consumption advisories
from 1,538 in 1996 to 1,964 last year--a 28 percent increase.
Their 11 neighboring states during the same time reduced
their fish consumption advisories from 439 to 233--a decline
of 47 percent. Minnesota increased its advisories by 32
percent, while its three non-Great Lakes neighbors reduced
theirs by 38 percent. What's wrong with this picture?
pointless pursuit of PCBs in the past and the new jihad
against mercury are evidence of an environmental movement
more interested in shutting down industries than protecting
health. Our political and regulatory systems are filled
with appeasers eager to "do something" to get
on the right side of what they think is a popular movement,
even if it means selling out small businesses and millions
Bush administration gave us a new EPA administrator, but
the dynamic that drives environmental public policy in
the Great Lakes hasn't changed. Fishermen, consumers,
small business owners and taxpayers are still the losers,
and a small cabal of professional agitators and bureaucrats
are still winning.
Thomas is president of the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council.