June 13-20, 2005

Cornwall sediment strategy, first update on 2002 COA released at IJC biennial meeting

Canada and Ontario have made major strides in improving water quality, rehabilitating fish and wildlife habitat and reducing toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes basin through joint activities pursued under the 2002 Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA) Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. Among the most significant accomplishments has been the development of an innovative strategy for managing contaminated sediments along the Cornwall waterfront.

The Cornwall Sediment Strategy document, along with the first biennial progress report on the 2002 COA were officially released by the federal and Ontario Environment Ministers, St√ąphane Dion, and Leona Dombrowksy, at a forum of Great Lakes managers and stakeholders which took place during the International Joint Commission's 2005 Great Lakes Conference and Biennial meeting in Kingston earlier this month.

The Cornwall Sediment Strategy calls for mercury-contaminated sediments along the waterfront to be left undisturbed to allow natural recovery to continue. The strategy is based on extensive scientific study, including a thorough review of 30 years of environmental data which confirm that the contaminated sediments are stable and pose no risk to people or the environment.

Mercury contamination of the Cornwall sediments is the result of local discharges from more than 70 years of industrial activity along the waterfront. Over time, the sediments have accumulated in three zones, corresponding to the prevailing water currents. While the mercury concentrations have decreased over the past 30 years, they are still elevated. Investigations have found, however, that deeper, more contaminated sediments are being covered over naturally by cleaner sediments which are accumulating at rates ranging from 0.8 to 2.6 centimetres per year. Studies of sediment stability have further shown that these deposits are stable.

The strategy for dealing with these sediments was developed through a unique collaboration involving community partners, environmental groups, three levels of government and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. Industry participants included Akzo Nobel (which purchased Courtaulds Fibres), Domtar Papers and ICI Engineering.

In addition to allowing natural recovery processes to continue, the strategy sets out a protocol for administrative controls, aimed at ensuring that no activities will occur which might disturb, expose or resuspend the contaminated sediments. The third element of the strategy is long-term monitoring by Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE); the two agencies are in discussions with area industries regarding their potential support.

The 2002 COA is a five-year agreement that builds on more than 30 years of collaboration between the governments of Canada and Ontario in addressing Great Lakes issues. It outlines how the two governments will continue to work together and with groups and individuals to focus efforts and help clean up the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. The COA defines priorities such as the cleanup of Areas of Concern (AOCs), response to lakewide issues, the reduction of harmful pollutants and increased federal/provincial co-operation on a lake-by-lake basis. Environment Canada and the MOE are responsible for co-ordinating implementation of the agreement.

The first biennial progress report on the 2002 COA describes the achievements during 2002 and 2003, and highlights the roles played by local and regional governments, industry, and community and environmental groups in carrying out area projects related to the Great Lakes priorities. Some of the report's highlights include:

Areas of Concern

- In 2003, the Severn Sound area of Georgian Bay became the second site to be removed from the list of Great Lakes AOCs (the first was Collingwood Harbour in 1994). With the delisting of Severn Sound, there remain 41 AOCs, 15 of them on the Canadian side and five of which Canada shares with the U.S.

- While Thunder Bay Harbour is still on the list of AOCs, major steps have been taken, including cleaning up approximately 60,000 cubic metres of contaminated sediment. Also implemented were stormwater control improvements, a program to replace lost fish habitat, and tree planting. The city was one of three municipalities to receive federal-provincial infrastructure funding in 2002-2003 to upgrade its sewage treatment plant.

Harmful Pollutants

- PCB: Substantial progress has been made in reducing the number of federal and private PCB storage sites in the Great Lakes basin. The number of sites has dropped from 1,555 in 1993 to only 550 by the end of 2003. Stored quantities have declined sharply as well, from approximately 25,000 tonnes of high-level PCB wastes in 1993 to approximately 3,854 tonnes in 2003, a reduction of about 86%.

- Dioxins and furans were reduced by 84% from a 1988 baseline. Much of the reduction resulted from measures to address emissions from waste incinerators, iron ore sintering plants, steel manufacturers and pulp and paper mills.

- Mercury releases into the Great Lakes basin have been reduced by 85%, from more than 14,000 kilograms a year (kg/yr) in 1988, to just under 2,100 kg/yr by the end of 2003. The decrease is attributable to actions such as Ontario regulations requiring the closure of 70 existing hospital incinerators in the province. New provincial standards for incinerator operation have also reduced mercury emissions by an estimated 400 kilograms a year alone, from year 2000 levels.

- Other initiatives contributing to mercury reduction include the Switch Out Program, which recovers mercury switches from scrapped automobiles, as well as reductions in the amount of mercury in fluorescent lamps and in quantities discharged from dentists' offices.

Lake-wide Management

- Biennial Lake-wide Management Plan reports were completed in 2002 for Lakes Superior, Erie and Ontario. They describe the state of the lake, causes of ecological impairment and actions required to restore environmental quality.

- The Environmental Farm Plan Incentive Program supported environmentally sound farm practices, including water quality initiatives and farm buffer strips.

Monitoring and Information Sharing

- An inventory of continuing environmental monitoring programs was completed; this will help track trends and long-term changes in environmental quality, ecosystem composition and function.

- A system to share information and scientific data among government, organizations and basin residents was initiated. The new system, called Lakeviews, will provide easy tracking and access to diverse environmental information gathered from through out the Great Lakes basin.

At the IJC conference as well, Environment Minister St√ąphane Dion, together with Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew, said the International Joint Commission will be assigned a significant role in gathering input and educating the public about the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA).

The terms of the GLWQA require the governments of Canada and the U.S. to undertake a comprehensive review of its operation and effectiveness following every third IJC biennial report. This requirement was formally triggered with the release of the IJC's 12th Biennial Report last September (ELW September 13-20, 2004). The IJC has been asked to report its findings from these public input sessions to the two governments by January 2006. Canada and the U.S. will then proceed with their comprehensive review of the Agreement.

More information is available on the IJC Web site, www.ijc.org or the Ontario region section of Environment Canada's Green Lane site, www.on.ec.gc.ca/glwqa.

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