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PORTSIDE  November 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE November 2012, Week 2

Subject:

Great Lakes Legacy Contaminants Decreasing, But Newer Ones On The Rise

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Date:

Mon, 12 Nov 2012 00:42:27 -0500

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Great Lakes Legacy Contaminants Decreasing, But Newer 
Ones On The Rise
By Brian Bienkowski
Environmental Health News
November 8, 2012
http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/great-lakes-legacy

Legacy contaminants are decreasing more quickly than
previously reported in three of the Great Lakes, but
have stayed virtually the same in two other lakes,
according to new research.

"These are very positive results. The lakes are
improving and slowly cleaning themselves up," said
Thomas Holsen, co-director of Clarkson University's
Center for the Environment and co-author of the study.

Even with the decreases, it will be 20 to 30 years until
the decades-old contaminants in Great Lakes fish decline
to the point that consumption advisories can be
eliminated, Holsen said. In addition, the older
contaminants are being replaced by newer ones, mostly
flame retardants, that are building up in fish and
wildlife.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the pesticide DDT and
other banned compounds dropped about 50 percent in fish
in Lakes Michigan, Ontario and Huron from 1999 through
2009, although there were no significant changes in
Lakes Superior and Erie fish, according to the study to
be published this month in the journal Science of the
Total Environment.

The status quo at Superior and Erie - which have lower
levels of contaminants than the other lakes - is not
surprising, Holsen said. Lake Superior is big, deep and
cold, so changes happen more slowly. And Lake Erie's
walleye have a shorter food chain than the trout tested
in the other lakes, so the contaminants did not build up
as much.

PCBs - industrial compounds that are the most prevalent
pollutants tested -  are decreasing at the slowest pace,
at about 3 to 8 percent per year, while DDT declined
about 11 to 16 percent per year. The pesticide mirex,
which is only detected in Lake Ontario, decreased 15 to
25 percent per year.

That is substantially faster than previous rates for the
contaminants: 2 to 4 percent annual decreases between
1980 and 2003. PCBs and DDT concentrations stayed
relatively stable from 2000 to 2003.

"If you look at PCBs in the region, there are still very
high concentrations in urban areas," Holsen said.

All of the compounds studied were phased out in the
1970s after they began building up in the environment,
particularly in the Great Lakes. Because they are slow
to break down, they persist in the lakes' sediments and
still are accumulating in fish and other wildlife.

Fish consumption warnings remain throughout the basin
for PCBs, which have been linked to an array of health
effects, including cancer and reduced IQs in people.

"There is significant evidence that contaminants
contribute to a lack of reproduction in the lakes," said
Deborah Swackhamer, co-director of the University of
Minnesota's Water Resources Center. "PCBs and dioxin are
going down in Lake Ontario and contaminants are going
down in Superior, and you're seeing more successful lake
trout reproduction in these lakes."

Since bans have eliminated manufacture and use of the
compounds, they are now getting into the lakes mostly
through what's circulating in the air.

"We've tackled the low-hanging fruit," said Ronald
Hites, a professor at Indiana University's School of
Public and Environmental Affairs who specializes in air
monitoring in the Great Lakes basin.

Through atmospheric deposition, the chemicals move from
the air to the Earth's surface. "The trends in the air
are much the same. These old chemicals are decreasing,"
Hites said. "Especially in the more remote regions like
northern Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, it's almost
all atmospheric deposition."

But it's not all good news for the lakes, which hold 20
percent of the world's fresh surface water. Other
contaminants that build up in the bodies of people and
animals are on the rise.

Thirteen currently used flame retardants are increasing
in Great Lakes sediment, according to a February study.
While they are at lower levels than PBDEs, the authors
from the University of Illinois at Chicago called the
trend "disturbing."

New flame retardants also were found in 89 percent of
the livers of ringer-bill gulls that breed near Lake
Ontario, according to a 2012 study from researchers at
the University of Quebec.

In another study by Hites, two new flame retardants -
one of them sold as Firemaster 550 - were detected in
more than half of the air samples taken at six sites
along the shores of the Great Lakes, with the highest
concentrations around Chicago and Cleveland.

"The old-fashioned ones are just being replaced by
something else," Hites said. "We're seeing one of the
new flame retardants (Firemaster 550) increasing quite
rapidly, doubling every two years."

The Great Lakes region still has 43 "Areas of Concern,"
a term the EPA uses to identify spots with severe
environmental degradation. Only four sites have been
delisted since 1987 when the program started.

More than 100 contaminant cleanup projects are funded
under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, launched
by President Obama in 2009.

Jeff Skelding, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great
Lakes Coalition, said he is pleased to see legacy
compounds decreasing. But he warns that there is more
work to do.

"The report is an important reminder to the U.S.
Congress and next president to support programs like the
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are accelerating
the cleanup of toxic hotspots around the region,"
Skelding said. "If federal public officials cut funding,
projects will become harder and more expensive the
longer we wait."

___________________________________________

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