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Great Lakes Article:

Scientists Discuss Health of Great Lakes
Allison Dunfield
The Globe and Mail
10/16/2002

While invasive species such as the zebra mussel and urban sprawl are harming the Great Lakes ecosystem, scientists say drinking water quality has improved and the level of contaminants in fish has decreased.

Experts from both Canada and the U.S. are gathered in Cleveland, Ohio this week to discuss the health of the lakes system, which is monitored under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the United States.

Under the agreement, the two countries are required to accurately monitor and report on the health of the Great Lakes.

Water quality from the Great Lakes, as well as the surrounding surface, ground and river water was assessed and found to have improved, the experts said.

Harvey Shear, regional science advisor for Environment Canada, said that the level of contaminants in Lake Ontario is slightly higher than the rest of the Great Lakes because Lake Ontario is at the end of the lakes chain.

"But the trends there are still in a favourable direction," Mr. Shear said in a conference call from Cleveland.

The agreement between the two countries has helped them make strides in reducing contamination in the Great Lakes, said John Mills, regional director general for Environment Canada.

Of 17 designated "Canadian hotspots" of contamination in the Great Lakes, improvements have been made to all of them and two have been taken off the list, Mr. Mills said.

Canada and the United States have also co-operated to improve the state of the Niagara River, which was on the receiving end of pollutants flowing into it from the United States.

Over a 10-year period, the two countries have reduced the amounts of contaminants in the river by 50 per cent.

"It's a long ways from zero, but we have made some significant improvements there," Mr. Mills said.

Contaminant levels are also decreasing in the outer layers of fish tissue found in species in the Great Lakes, the scientists said.

But other issues such as urban sprawl which causes natural habitat loss, and invasive species, are still a cause for concern, the scientists said.

Invasive species such as the zebra mussel are ruining a delicate ecological balance in the Lakes ecosystem, Mr. Shear said.

"They essentially just disrupt the whole food chain," he said, explaining that they cause problems in the biological community by feeding on items which other wildlife need.

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