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Great Lakes cleanup gets mediocre grade
Good and bad news on chemical contaminants

Brian McAndrew

Article courtesy of The Star

September 12, 2001

Progress in cleaning up the Great Lakes gets a lukewarm evaluation in a new report from Canadian and U.S. environmental agencies.

The latest review of the environmental health of the lakes shows efforts to clean up the lakes are good in parts, not so hot in others.

The report, State of the Great Lakes 2001, is being released today.

The report was enthusiastic about the quality of the drinking water provided by the lakes, calling it one of the best sources in the world.

It also boasted about declining contaminants found in fish, birds and other wildlife because of the drop in the amount of toxic pollutants making their way into the lake.

But pollutants still fall from the atmosphere from distant sources across North America and frustrate efforts to eliminate the chemical substances like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and common pesticides used in farming.

The report found that invasive species like zebra mussels continue to make their way into the five lakes that contain about one fifth of the world's fresh water supply.

``They still manage to sneak in,'' said Harvey Shear, an Environment Canada science advisor and co-author of the report.

Shear is dismayed by the continuing loss of wetlands throughout the Great Lakes basin and the increasing amount of ``hardening'' of shorelines, the practise of building concrete walls and other barriers to prevent erosion.

The report notes the threat of climate change with warming trends having the potential to reduce water levels in the lakes that would further harm wetlands and natural habitats for fish and wildlife.

The report is based on 33 environmental indicators studied by scientists in Canada and the U.S.

Only drinking water quality, the health of walleye and the reduction of contaminants in nesting water birds were listed as positive signs.

Exotic species control in the lakes and efforts at reducing abnormalities in Lake Erie fish were given poor ratings. Progress in other categories was called mixed.

The report comes just as a major international environmental conference scheduled to be held in Montreal this weekend was cancelled because of the terrorist attacks yesterday on New York and Washington.

The International Joint Commission, a Canada/U.S. body that oversees Great Lakes and other boundary water issues, postponed indefinitely its biennial meeting that was to start Friday.

It attracts environmentalists from all around the Great Lakes.
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