Areas of Concern - Special Report

Home | Contents | 1-Summary | 2-Background | 3-Progress | Findings | Signatures | References | Français

Chapter 2

Areas of Concern

Purpose of this Report

Responsibilities of the Commission

Responsibilities of the Governments

Remedial Action Plan Process



Remedial Action Plan Process

According to Annex 2 of the Agreement, each Remedial Action Plan "shall embody a systematic and comprehensive ecosystem approach to restoring and protecting beneficial uses in Areas of Concern or in open lake waters" [Section 2(a)] and "serve as an important step toward virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances and toward restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical and biological integrity of waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem [Section 2(b)]."

To date, Remedial Action Plans have focused on the remediation of major sources such as contaminated sediment and inadequately treated wastewater. In addition, plans have addressed nonpoint source pollution, habitat rehabilitation, pollution prevention and other actions to restore beneficial uses.

Work in some toxic sites within the United States Areas of Concern has taken place under programs-such as the U.S. Superfund program-and has not in the past been documented consistently in Remedial Action Plan reports despite substantial levels of expenditure and clearly positive impacts on environmental quality in some Areas of Concern (e.g. Niagara River).

Work in Areas of Concern is carried out by dozens of organizations, including federal, state, provincial and local governments and volunteer groups and businesses, among others. Funding mechanisms are equally complex and vary by country and also by state within the United States.

Remedial Action Plan practitioners include staff in public agencies at the local, state, provincial and federal levels as well as private parties and community members. Private parties can become funding partners through legal settlements via the U.S. Superfund program and other enforcement programs, and through other mechanisms such as citizen lawsuits or voluntary agreements. Any change in Remedial Action Plan participants and leadership can also slow the pace of plan development.

Information for the Canadian and United States Areas of Concern, presented in the Matrix of Restoration Activities that accompanies this report, represents an initial attempt by the Commission to compile indicators of restoration activities and the organizations responsible for carrying them out.

The Commission recognizes that an unquantified number of person-years of effort and billions of dollars have been devoted to restoration activities by the governments and the private sector. Additional tracking and data collection by the governments are necessary to more accurately quantify past effort and estimate future needs.

In the 16 years since Areas of Concern were identified, considerable progress has been made in:

  • identifying baseline problems;
  • developing remediation plans; and
  • building community support for restoration plans.

Despite such progress, in most Areas of Concern significant challenges remain, including:

  • determining the status of restoration;
  • setting priorities;
  • securing resources to support restoration; and
  • coordinating implementation efforts.

Gaps in information on what needs to be done make it difficult for governments to predict and secure adequate resources to restore beneficial uses. Much work remains to be done, especially in the Areas of Concern, to achieve the visionary goal of restoring the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. (For a discussion of approaches used by the two governments in dealing with restoration of Great Lakes water quality, see Box 3.)

Box 3 :
National Approaches to the Restoration of Great Lakes Water Quality

The quality of the waters of the Great Lakes is affected by contamination occurring within the Areas of Concern as well as by contamination originating outside the Areas of Concern that reaches the lakes via tributaries, groundwater and airborne deposition. Contamination comes from nonpoint source pollution, such as agricultural and urban run-off, point source discharges of contaminants, groundwater, and airborne movement of contaminants from hazardous materials sites. Such sites also represent hazards to those who live in the immediate vicinity (e.g. Love Canal).

United States Approach

To deal with this multitude of contaminants, federal and state governments operate under a number of separate but interrelated programs. These include the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund), the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Oil Pollution Act and many state statutes, regulations and initiatives. These programs often require the government to seek the parties responsible for the original pollution and, where feasible, require them to clean up the sites or to fund cleanup efforts (the "polluter pays" approach).

Faced with remediation activities across the basin and the nation and with variations in funding from year to year, both federal and state governments seek funds for remediation from all programs available to them. In addition, they seek funds through legal proceedings from potentially responsible parties. When funds are provided, they are often limited to a specific site or program, greatly reducing flexibility. Funding requests by governments and funding decisions by legislatures are based in large part on their understanding of the relative risks to affected citizens. Remediation of sediment and work on wastewater plants take a position in line for funds. The efforts of the U.S. government to restore the integrity of the Great Lakes involve activities of many programs, most of which operate outside of those programs focused specifically on sediment remediation and wastewater infrastructure upgrades. The relative priority among these programs is established based on the government's assessment of relative need among programs.

Canadian Approach

In Canada, there are a series of acts that help direct environmental protection and litigation. At the federal level they include, but are not limited to, the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Canada Water Act, and others. In Ontario there are the Municipal Industrial Strategy for Abatement regulations, the Ontario Water Resource Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, hazardous waste regulations, the Pesticides Act, the Nutrient Management Act, the Environmental Protection Act as well as other statutes and permitting processes relevant to restoring Great Lakes water quality. In Canada, the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem contributes to Canada meeting its commitments under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement including those for Areas of Concern. The administration of the Canada-Ontario Agreement is entrusted to a Management Committee3, which includes a co-chair from Environment Canada and a co-chair from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, as well as Regional Director General and Assistant Deputy Minister level representatives from all departments and ministries who are signatories to the Canada-Ontario Agreement3.