Canada and the United States Achieving Elimination of Toxins in the Great Lakes Region

Source: 
Environment Canada

Environment Canada Officials and stakeholders from the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States met yesterday in Windsor to mark the mid-point of a 10-year strategy to virtually eliminate persistent toxic substances from entering the Great Lakes basin.

The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy (GLBTS) has proven to be an effective mechanism for tackling the problem of pollution by encouraging cooperation between federal, state, provincial and municipal agencies, First Nations groups industry associations and many non-government organizations. It is projected that by 2006, nearly all of the reduction targets set in 1997 -- in some cases calling for up to a 90 percent reduction -- will have been met or exceeded.

Canada and the United States committed to work toward the virtual elimination of twelve Level 1 persistent toxic substances (also known as the "Dirty Dozen") from the Great Lakes Basin, including aldrin/dieldrin, benzo(a)pyrene, chlordane, DDT, hexachlorobenzene, alkyl-lead, mercury, mirex, octachlorostyrene, PCBs, dioxins and furans. These substances have been linked to widespread, long-term adverse affects on fish and wildlife in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

"The multistakeholder efforts that are part of the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy have not only led to an overall reduction of toxic substances entering the Great Lakes basin but in some cases have exceeded reduction targets," said the Honourable David Anderson, Canada's Minister of the Environment. "This Strategy is an excellent example of how environmental protection and remediation can be achieved through voluntary participation and cooperation amongst industry, governments and non-government organizations."

"As the largest freshwater system on the face of the earth, the Great Lakes ecosystem holds the key to the quality of life and economic prosperity for tens of millions people," said Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "We understand and are absolutely committed to the importance of partnerships in getting things done. That's where we are going to make the difference in the environmental issues of the twenty-first century."

GLBTS stakeholders will gather in Windsor to reflect on the progress that has been made so far and set the course for the next five years. The GLBTS will look to expand its focus towards the environmental impacts of individual actions such as household garbage burning, which accounts for a significant amount of uncontrolled air-borne pollution.

Environment Canada states that burning household garbage is the third largest known source of dioxins and furans in Ontario, after medical waste incinerators and iron sintering. Almost a quarter of rural residents in Ontario told pollsters last year they burn garbage. Among other pollutants released by this practice are the GLBTS toxics: benzo(a)pyrene, mercury, hexachlorobenzene and PCBs. The work of the GLBTS on reducing household garbage burning is also being used as a model for Canada-Wide Standards for dioxins and furans, as a way to address this practice across Canada.

For additional information about the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, please visit the website at www.binational.net.

 
BACKGROUNDER

 
The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

In 1972, Canada and the United States signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) in recognition of the urgent need to improve environmental conditions in the Great Lakes. The GLWQA established the commitment to restore and enhance water quality in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

In 1978 the Agreement was amended to include a commitment for the virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances and established a list of toxic chemicals for priority action.

 
The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy

In keeping with the obligations of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada and former President Bill Clinton committed in February 1995 to the development of a coordinated Canadian/U.S. strategy to virtually eliminate persistent toxic substances, particularly those which bioaccumulate, from the Great Lakes Basin. The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy was signed into force on April 7, 1997, as a means of fulfilling these commitments.

The Strategy responds to recommendations of many groups over the years (including the International Joint Commission, environmental and citizens' groups) to commit to the pursuit of virtual elimination of persistent toxics substances so as to protect and ensure the health and integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The persistent toxic substances identified in the Strategy have been linked with widespread, long-term adverse affects on the Great Lakes ecosystem, including fish and wildlife.

This is the first time specific reduction targets have been set by both countries. In the United States the goals for mercury, PCBs and dioxins are national in scope because these toxics are primarily airborne and sources far outside the basin can impact the Great Lakes through atmospheric long-range transport.

This Strategy takes a creative new approach to environmental protection. The goal of virtual elimination will be achieved through a variety of programs and actions, but the primary emphasis will be on voluntary actions and pollution prevention. The Strategy advocates "cleaner, cheaper, smarter" methods of reducing toxic substances and reaches out to all sectors of society.

The GLBTS provides a four-step analytical framework to guide Environment Canada, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and Strategy stakeholders towards the virtual elimination of Strategy substances. The steps include information gathering, analysis of current regulations, initiatives, and programs which manage or control substances, identifying cost effective options to achieve further reductions and implementing actions to work towards the goal of virtual elimination.

The "dirty dozen" or "Level 1" persistent toxic substances targeted for reduction are among those substances that when present in water, sediment or aquatic organisms, exert a toxic effect on aquatic animal and human life. They include aldrin/dieldrin, benzo(a)pyrene, chlordane, DDT, hexachlorobenzene, alkyl-lead, mercury, mirex, octachlorostyrene, PCBs, dioxins and furans.

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