11th Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality

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Further Matters of Importance


Section 1: Annex 1 (Specific Objectives)

Section 2: Annex 2 (Areas of Concern)

Section 3: Annex 3 (Phosphorus)

Section 4: Annex 7 (Dredging)

Section 5: Annex 8 (Discharge from Onshore and Offshore Facilities)

Section 6: Annex 10 (Hazardous Polluting Substances)

Section 7: Annex 12 (Persistent Toxic Substances)

Section 8: Annex 15 (Airborne Toxic Substances)

Section 9: Annex 16 (Groundwater)

Section 10: Annex 17 (Research)

Section 11: Lake Superior Binational Program

Section 12: Nuclear Issues

Section 13: Unmonitored Chemicals

Section 14: Water Use in the Great Lakes Basin and Annex 2001


Section 7: Persistent Toxic Substances
(Annex 12)


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 requirements.

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 in
    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.