Dec 28, 2000

EPA to Reduce Toxic Chemicals Discharged into the Great Lakes

In a major action to protect the Great Lakes and the public health of those who live near them, U.S. EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner has taken final action to annually ban up to 700,000 toxic pounds of chemicals discharged into the Great Lakes and that accumulate in fish and wildlife.
These toxins include mercury, dioxin, PCB's and pesticides. Mercury discharges alone will be reduced by up to 90 percent. EPA also has committed to develop a national regulation for mixing zones in 2001.
This recent action specifically bans the discharge of the most toxic chemicals through "mixing zones." Mixing zones refer to the long-used practice of disposing of many toxic chemicals at a specific point on a body of water, under the theory that their dilution in surrounding waters justifies less protective discharge standards within the mixing zone. In fact, it has been known for some time that these toxic discharges actually build up and threaten public health, aquatic life and wildlife.
"The Great Lakes rank among the world's most important natural treasures," said Browner. "Today's action will dramatically reduce the toxic chemicals that threaten those waters. It will protect the health of millions of American families, it will guard the purity of their drinking water, and it will help make safer the fish they eat. The solution to pollution is not dilution. And that is why the time has come to phase out the practice of 'mixing zones' in the Great Lakes."
EPA estimates that, of the approximately 600 major industrial and municipal facilities with disposal permits in the Great Lake basin, about half discharge toxic bioaccumulative chemicals of concern into mixing zones. These mixing zones will be phased out over a ten-year period in a cost-effective manner. For new discharges, mixing zones will be prohibited immediately.
The rule authorizes limited exceptions for existing dischargers who prove that they have already reduced their discharge of toxic bioaccumulative chemicals as much as possible, and that further requirements are not technically feasible or cost effective. Dischargers must continue to meet water quality standards while covered by an exception, and must prove they continue to be eligible for the exception every five years.
Three of the Great Lakes states –New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania – will have 18 months to adopt the rule. Five of the eight Great Lakes states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin – already prohibit mixing zones in the Great Lakes.
EPA has begun work on a proposal for 2001 to regulate mixing zones for the rest of the country. Several states outside the Great Lakes have expressed interest in voluntary prohibition of mixing zones.