June 4, 2007

Stakeholders review progress as Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy marks tenth year

The Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy (GLBTS) marked its tenth anniversary in late May, as representatives from governments, industry, academia and environmental and other non-governmental organizations met in Chicago to review progress and map future directions for the binational initiative. The meeting coincided with the release of the GLBTS Tenth Annivesary Progress Report.

Through the GLBTS, Environment Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1997 established 17 source and emission reduction goals for both countries, including the goal of virtually eliminating discharges of persistent toxic substances such as mercury, PCBs and dioxin into the Great Lakes environment.

Federal, state/provincial and local governments have since worked together to reduce the use and release of targeted toxic substances, with the help of stakeholders from industry, academia, First Nations and environmental and community groups. To date, 12 of the 17 goals have been met, and the rest are well advanced.

For example, Canada has achieved an estimated 85% reduction in mercury as of 2003 (from a 1988 baseline), approaching its GLBTS goal of 90%. The report also documents a reduction of approximately 90% in high-level PCB in storage in Ontario, with elimination of nearly 70% of high-level PCB in use or service. New federal PCB regulations incorporating mandatory phaseout dates will help Canada reach its GLBTS goal of a 90% reduction in high-level PCB in service.

Canada and the U.S. have each reduced dioxin and furan emissions by approximately 89% compared to targets of 90% for Canada and 75% for the U.S., notes the report, adding that backyard burning of household waste remains the largest source of these emissions in both countries. A burn barrel outreach campaign has adopted on both sides of the border, while the dioxin work group continues to seek pathway intervention opportunities and reductions from the main sources, while tracking ambient air concentrations and continuing source characterization work.

Over the past ten years, some 46,000 cubic metres of contaminated sediments have been cleaned up on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes and more than four million cubic yards on the U.S. side (including over 400,000 cubic yards at nine U.S. sites in 2005). In 2005, says the report, sediment remediation assessments were completed for the Niagara River, Peninsula Harbour and Thunder Bay Areas of Concern (AOCs), and evaluations are under way for the Bay of Quinte, Wheatley Harbour, Detroit River, St Clair River and St Marys River AOCs.

The report presents trends for these Level 1 substances in gull eggs and fish as well as open water, air and sediment, noting that overall, significant environmental improvements have been realized for historic pollutants in the Great Lakes.

Looking forward, new challenges are presented by emerging substances of concern, such as flame retardants. The tenth anniversary meeting included a workshop in the sound management of chemicals in the Great Lakes basin, where delegates discussed the possibility of broadening the current structure and mandate of the GLBTS. Also influencing its future will be the forthcoming recommendations from the 2006 review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy 10th Anniversary Progress Report may be viewed on-line at binational.net/bns/2006.

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