The Associated Press

Despite improvements in recent decades, the Great Lakes remain a
dumping ground for pollution ranging from livestock waste to
mercury emissions, a U.S.-Canadian panel said yesterday.

In its biennial report on Great Lakes water quality, the
International Joint Commission urged the governments of both
nations to step up protection and restoration efforts.

“There are a large number of problems still to be dealt
with,” Herb Gray, the Canadian co-chairman of the commission,
said in a conference call with reporters. The U.S. co-chairman,
Dennis Schornack, agreed but added that “things have
progressively gotten better.”

For nearly a quarter-century, the commission has issued biennial
progress reports on implementation of the Great Lakes Water Quality
Agreement.

Under the 1978 pact, both nations agreed “to restore and
maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the
waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem” and to seek
reductions in pollution.

Some of the system’s water quality problems have been
around for years. But Gray and Schornack said the agreement, which
has not been updated in 17 years, should be revised to include
newer challenges such as the zebra mussel invasion.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Canadian
counterpart, Environment Canada, have formed a committee to
consider updates. The IJC will offer suggestions by the end of the
year, Schornack said.

Scientists have identified 162 exotic species in the Great Lakes
and some believe the total exceeds 170, the IJC report said. They
range from well-known invaders such as the zebra and quagga mussels
and the fish-killing lamprey to foreign algae and protozoa.

Ballast water from oceangoing ships is believed to be a leading
source of exotic species. The International Maritime Organization
has a proposal for dealing with the ballast problem, but the
commission report says it won’t be implemented for another
five years at the earliest.

In the meantime, an additional eight to 12 exotic species could
be introduced to the lakes, the report says. It says both nations
quickly should set their own rules.

“We’re pressing them to get on with it,” Gray
said.

Another threat to the lakes comes from microbial pathogens that
can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, the report says. Sources
include pet wastes, manure from livestock farms and leaky septic
tanks.

“Systems for waste collection and water treatment …
around the Great Lakes are inadequate or in decline,” the
report says.

Urban sprawl is causing an array of pollution problems: sewage
overflows, stormwater runoff, motor vehicle emissions. The report
says most groundwater problems can be traced to urban land-use
practices such as excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources
continue to pollute the lakes and accumulate in the bodies of some
fish, the commission said. In its previous report, the panel urged
both nations to improve their advisories about eating fish.

“The commission’s concerns remain relevant
today,” the report said. “Advisories are often
technical, sometimes offer conflicting advice, and typically fail
to reach at-risk populations, including children and women of
childbearing age.”

The report seeks continued funding to study changes in the Lake
Erie ecosystem, saying they often serve as an early warning about
looming problems with the other Great Lakes.

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