Areas of Concern - Special Report

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Chapter 2

Areas of Concern

Purpose of this Report

Responsibilities of the Commission

Responsibilities of the Governments

Remedial Action Plan Process



Purpose of this Report

Within the limits of available information, the International Joint Commission describes the status of remedial activities in Great Lakes Areas of Concern and notes the future actions and resources required to restore beneficial uses (see Box 2). The Commission also makes recommendations to the Canadian and United States governments on actions they can take to achieve restoration.

Annex 2 of the Agreement, which deals with Areas of Concern, indicates that the ability of plants, animals and humans to thrive in these locations can be particularly compromised by the presence of contaminated sediment, urban wastewater pollution, nonpoint source pollution, inland contaminated sites and degraded habitat. To restore and protect environmental quality in the Great Lakes, Annex 2 calls for the development and implementation of Remedial Action Plans for Areas of Concern.

In 1987, the two governments designated 42 Areas of Concern, with 25 sites in the United States, 12 in Canada and five in connecting channels shared by the two countries. Plans are being developed and implemented binationally at three of the shared Areas of Concern-the St. Marys River, St. Clair River and Detroit River Areas of Concern. The United States and Canada are developing and implementing separate national Remedial Action Plans for the other two shared Areas of Concern - the Niagara River and St. Lawrence River Areas of Concern. In 1991, the U.S. government added one new Area of Concern (Presque Isle Bay, Pennsylvania), making a total of 26 Areas of Concern in the United States.

The Canadian government declared two Areas of Concern restored (Collingwood Harbour, 1994 and Severn Sound, 2003) and one Area of Concern (Spanish Harbor, 1997) as an Area of Concern in recovery. In 2002, the U.S. government designated Presque Isle Bay as an Area of Concern in Recovery Stage2.

Box 2 :
Impairment of Beneficial Uses

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement [Annex 2, Section 1(c)] states that "impairment of beneficial use(s)" means a change in the chemical, physical or biological integrity of the Great Lakes System sufficient to cause any of the following:

  1. restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption;
  2. tainting of fish and wildlife flavour;
  3. degradation of fish and wildlife populations;
  4. fish tumors or other deformities;
  5. bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems;
  6. degradation of benthos (bottom-dwelling organisms);
  7. restrictions on dredging activities;
  8. eutrophication or undesirable algae (increased nutrient levels lead to increased algae levels);
  9. restrictions on drinking water consumption, or taste and odour problems;
  10. beach closings;
  11. degradation of aesthetics;
  12. added costs to agriculture or industry;
  13. degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations (free floating plants and animals); and
  14. loss of fish and wildlife habitat.