Section 7: Persistent Toxic Substances
Numerous programs in the United States and Canada, including the
Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, Remedial Action Plans (RAPs),
and Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs), and clean air and clean
water legislation contribute to reducing and eliminating the input of
persistent toxic substances to the Great Lakes from various sources.
Improved coordination among these programs would enhance progress toward
virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances.
Persistent toxic substances reach the Great Lakes from airborne, land
and aquatic sources. Through Annex 12, the Parties to the
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in cooperation with the Great Lakes states and
provincial jurisdictions committed themselves to virtually eliminate the input
of persistent toxic substances. Because this complex endeavor poses
many challenges, the Parties broke the issue into more manageable
components, adding Annexes 13-17 to the Agreement in 1987. These annexes focus
on specific sources of contaminants nonpoint sources, contaminated
sediment, atmospheric transport and groundwater as well as
associated research needs. Annex 2, also added in 1987, provides for greater
public participation as another means to help achieve virtual elimination.
The Parties and jurisdictions have undertaken numerous initiatives in support
of all these annexes, including those that promote pollution prevention over
reduction and control. Because considerable progress has been made, the Great
Lakes ecosystem today is much improved. Nevertheless, after more than two decades,
virtual elimination is not yet realized for any compounds with the possible
exception of octochlorostyrene releases. The case of PCBs illustrates the point.
Despite the Parties' commitment a quarter century ago to ban their manufacture,
remove them from use, and dispose of or destroy stockpiles, PCBs remain in use
and continue to enter the environment from landfills, storage yards and other
pathways for transport worldwide via the atmosphere. While the Parties continue
to make progress, including the removal of one million pounds of PCBs from Waukegan
Harbor, large amounts of sediment heavily contaminated with PCBs still need
to be cleaned up, since their presence constitutes an active source of contaminant
cycling in the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.
In prior biennial reports, the Commission has presented assessments
and advice on the achievement of virtual elimination. The Commission
advised the Parties to develop a comprehensive virtual elimination strategy.
Subsequent to the Commission's call, the Parties signed the collaborative
Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy in 1997.
From 1999 to 2001 the Great Lakes Water Quality Board progress
review work group on the Binational Toxics Strategy evaluated the
Binational Toxics Strategy.
According to the Board's assessment, the Strategy:
- contributes to the development, assembly, and expanded use of
information, and provides coordination for collaborative sharing of
this information among various jurisdictions
- helps engage industry, trade and professional associations, and
others in voluntary action to achieve reductions beyond regulatory
Among the Strategy's weaknesses are:
- problems with organization, including coordination and oversight
of Strategy activities. The roles of various groups involved in this
effort need to be defined and confirmed
- the work appears to be bilateral rather than binational
- the Strategy's web site is seriously outdated, with the notable
absence of Canadian information sources
- some key reports lack adequate information, including which
information inventories are being used, and how top sources for certain Level
I substances were identified. Some are not linked to the Strategy's
web site or are not publicly available. The Strategy's progress reports
some cases lack quantitative baseline and current-year information, present
incomplete information, or lack Canadian information
- the Strategy could be used to greater advantage if its profile
were raised and its opportunities actively promoted.
The voluntary nature of the Strategy is both an asset and a liability. On
the one hand, it facilitates stakeholder opportunities and participation
in activities beyond regulatory requirements. On the other hand, the Strategy
is only one of many initiatives competing for time and resources, and
mandatory regulatory programs tend to take precedence over voluntary
initiatives such as the Strategy.
The Binational Toxics Strategy is not a comprehensive strategy for
virtual elimination. Rather, it is one initiative in a panoply of programs
that address various components of the issue. While the Strategy
encourages stakeholder opportunities and voluntary participation, its influence on
other programs is unclear.
The role of the Strategy in fulfilling the Parties' commitments under
the Agreement is uncertain, particularly in its relationship with Remedial
Action Plans and Lakewide Management Plans.
The Parties should explicitly state whether the Strategy relies on Annex
2 requirements as a mechanism to deliver on selected goals, especially
in regard to contaminated sediment and atmospheric transport. Further
could the Strategy offer leadership with regard to implementing
Remedial Action Plans and Lakewide Management Plans?
Despite improvements to the Binational Toxics Strategy itself, the
Commission sees a clear need for better coordination and effective linkages
across program areas to resolve the persistent toxic substances issue and to
fulfill the Parties' commitments under the Agreement.