Reduction in Great Lakes Pollutants

Reduction in Great Lakes Pollutants

By: Susan Smith

Recently, US EPA and Environment Canada issued a news release announcing that levels of the most critical and persistent pollutants around the Great Lakes continue to fall. According to the agencies’ 2002 Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy Progress Report, these reductions are part of a downward trend in toxic substances in the Great Lakes over the last 15 years. On the US side, mercury releases have been reduced by 40 percent since 1990; dioxin releases have dropped 92 percent since the 1980s; hexachlorobenzene emissions fell 75 percent; and benzo (a) pyrene went down 25 percent.

According to the report, success in reducing these pollutants has been due to a combination of stronger regulations and voluntary actions. Some of the voluntary projects undertaken in 2002 were:

  • Industry phase-out of the use of PCBs. Participating companies included Algoma Steel in Canada and Ford Motor Co. in the United States;
  • The “Burn-it-Smart!” campaign in Ontario which promotes cleaner wood-burning technologies, helping to reduce emissions of benzo (a) pyrene; and
  • The Burn Barrel and Household Garbage campaign which educates the public that burning garbage is a source of dioxin and promotes clean alternatives to this common practice.

While voluntary reductions are welcome, enforceable regulations remain extremely important to continued reductions.

The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy is an agreement between Canada and the United States to reduce or eliminate persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances from the the Great Lakes basin. Environment Canada, EPA, tribes, First Nations and other government, public and private partners work together toward that goal. 2002 marks the halfway point in the 10-year timeline of the strategy, which was established in 1997.

Level 1, or priority, substances identified by the strategy are mercury, PCBs, dioxins/furans, hexachlorobenzene, benzo(a)pyrene, octachlorostyrene, alkyl lead, aldrin, dieldrin, mirex, chlordane, toxaphene and DDT. The report is available on


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