April 20, 2000



Under the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Agreement), Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs) for open lake waters are to be developed and implemented by the Parties (Canadian and United States Governments) in cooperation with State and Provincial Governments. Such Plans shall be designed to reduce loadings of Critical Pollutants in order to restore beneficial uses. The LaMPs are to be submitted to the International Joint Commission (Commission) for review and comment at four stages and shall include:

The Stage 2 LaMP for the open waters of Lake Superior has been reviewed; the criteria for its evaluation were based on the relevant portions of the 1987 Protocol to the Agreement. As defined in Paragraph 6(c) of Annex 2 of the Agreement, Stage 2 LaMPs are to be submitted to the Commission for review and comment and are to contain a determination of load reductions of Critical Pollutants necessary to meet Agreement Objectives.

In addition to this required Stage 2 element, Annex 2 of the Agreement also details general principles for LaMPs that include:

Accordingly, the Commission's review of the Stage 2 Lake Superior LaMP reflects an assessment of the Parties' determination of the load reductions for Critical Pollutants necessary to meet Objectives of the Agreement and consideration of the two general LaMP principles outlined above.

General Comments

  1. Load Reduction Determinations for Critical Pollutants

    According to Annex 2 of the Agreement, the sole requirement of a Stage 2 LaMP is "a determination of load reductions of Critical Pollutants necessary to meet Agreement Objectives." Thus the Lake Superior Stage 2 LaMP should clearly identify load reductions in Critical Pollutants that are judged necessary to restore beneficial uses in the lake's open waters. It does not comply with this requirement.

    This LaMP's preface states "the main purpose of this document is to set load reduction schedules for the nine critical pollutants targeted for virtual elimination . . ." Despite this statement, no explicit schedule of load reductions from all sources to Lake Superior is presented in the document.

    The nine Critical Pollutants targeted for virtual elimination are: mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dieldrin/aldrin, chlordane, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and its metabolites, toxaphene, 2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-dibenzo-p-dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD), hexachlorobenzene, and octachlorostyrene. Table ES-1 [and Table 3-7 on page 3-39], entitled "Summary of Reduction Goals for Lake Superior Virtual Elimination Pollutants," details a schedule for certain in-basin activities for these Critical Pollutants. The table outlines retrieval and destruction of all dieldrin/aldrin, chlordane, DDT, and toxaphene in the basin by 2000. It does not, however, explain what reductions in loadings to Lake Superior would accrue due to these in-basin actions, nor does it explicitly present goals for reductions in loadings from all sources of these Critical Pollutants to Lake Superior. In particular, the table does not address loadings of Critical Pollutants from out-of-basin sources, which are believed by the Commission to account for the majority of loadings to Lake Superior. Hence, the sole requirement for a Stage 2 LaMP is not met.

    While the in-basin goals outlined in the LaMP are commendable, the Commission is concerned that actions taken toward the goals of addressing emissions/releases and usage/storage in the Lake Superior Basin do not translate into substantive reductions in loadings to Lake Superior. Discussion of the load reduction schedules in the LaMP includes the statement "this section of the Stage 2 LaMP looks at releases to the environment from various processes and potential releases from the use and disposal of products containing these chemicals." It further states, "The estimates consider the potential for emission or eventual release to the environment. These estimates are not intended to represent input to Lake Superior and should not be confused with measured loadings . . ." Therefore, the Stage 2 LaMP itself acknowledges that it is not starting with a baseline of loadings from which to determine necessary reductions.

    In-basin reductions in releases/emissions of Critical Pollutants and their to-be-determined reductions in loadings to Lake Superior are not suitable substitutes for the more substantive reductions in loadings from all sources that are necessary. Since the Lake Superior LaMP effort has previously documented the magnitude of Critical Pollutant loadings that originate from outside the Lake Superior Basin, it is clear that goals for reductions in loadings of Critical Pollutants from all pathways to Lake Superior must be set and reached in order to restore beneficial uses.

  2. Mechanisms To Address Out-of-Basin Sources

    For many Critical Pollutants such as PCBs, out-of-basin sources are the major contributors to Lake Superior loadings. Therefore, sizable reductions in the use or environmental release within the Basin may not translate into major reductions in loadings to Lake Superior. The LaMP states on page 3-4, "Other mechanisms will deal with out-of-basin sources." This approach is of serious concern to the Commission. If out-of-basin sources are not addressed, implementation of the Lake Superior LaMP cannot be achieved and accordingly, the goals of Annex 2 of the Agreement will not be met.

    The LaMP states a reduction goal to destroy "accessible/in-control" PCBs of 33% by 2000 and 100% by 2020. This represents a laudable in-basin goal. The Stage 1 LaMP identified 160 kg/year of PCB loadings to Lake Superior. Over 90% of these loadings are judged to be from atmospheric deposition. A considerable proportion of these loadings is derived from out-of-basin sources. Accordingly, only very minor reductions in loadings of PCBs to Lake Superior will accrue if the 2000 and 2020 in-basin use reduction goals are met. More importantly, if in-basin goals are met, what benefits will accrue toward restoration of beneficial uses? It appears that "other mechanisms" that are to deal with out-of-basin sources will, necessarily, be responsible for achieving the majority of reduction in loadings of PCBs to Lake Superior. Yet, no numerical targets for load reductions have been set.

    In 1995, Drs. Mark Cohen and Barry Commoner, as well as others, detailed delivery of dioxin to Lake Superior from long-range transport. (For purposes of this review, we use the term "dioxin" to refer to all polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans.) More recent modeling efforts undertaken by Dr. Cohen (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) on behalf of the Commission's International Air Quality Advisory Board have shown that 40% of dioxin deposition to Lake Superior is from sources 400 to 700 kilometers (250 to 435 miles) removed from the Lake. This work has demonstrated the capability to credibly link specific sources and source regions of persistent toxic substances to deposition in Lake Superior. The Commission recommends that the Parties utilize this technique to advance their understanding of source contributions.

    The Commission suggests that one of the major mechanisms for dealing with out-of-basin sources could be the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy (GLBTS) provided it incorporates an air pathway component with an adequate geographical scope. The LaMP document notes on page 3-38 the difference between the goals of the GLBTS and the LaMP. In particular, the LaMP notes that unlike the GLBTS its goals extend to zero discharge and zero emission.

    Many of the challenges to be addressed by the GLBTS are also related to reductions in the use or release of persistent toxic substances. Without the information necessary to demonstrate the linkage between specific sources of Critical Pollutants and the resultant loadings to Lake Superior, it will be extremely difficult, in the Stage 3 LaMP, to effectively evaluate which alternative measures might be most effective in the effort to decrease actual loadings of Critical Pollutants to Lake Superior.

    Regardless of the mechanism used to address out-of-basin sources, it remains incumbent on the LaMP process to identify the necessary reductions in loadings to restore beneficial uses and to clearly demonstrate the linkage between ongoing and planned pollution prevention efforts and actual reductions in loadings of Critical Pollutants to Lake Superior.

  3. Dioxin from Burn Barrels

    Uncontrolled burning of household waste has now been identified as a source of certain Critical Pollutants. During the development of the Stage 2 LaMP, information became available on the emissions of dioxin from burn barrels and other such uncontrolled burning of household waste on both sides of the border. Because of the Lake Superior Basin's mostly rural nature, these sources may represent a commonly used method of household waste disposal and, hence, a source of dioxin loadings to Lake Superior.

    Estimation of loadings from this source, a Stage 1 LaMP requirement, would assist in assigning an appropriate priority for control efforts. The desired reductions from this source of loadings should be calculated to enable appropriate remedial measures to be included in a future Lake Superior LaMP document.

    The Commission is impressed with recent outreach efforts by the States of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin in regard to the problem of burning household waste and its potential impacts on human health and aquatic life. Information regarding the threat of dioxin to human health and aquatic life could prove to be useful in addressing the current challenge of modifying commonly used backyard or dump-site trash burning practices. A brochure recently developed by the Air Quality Division of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality clearly informs the public of the potential health threat posed by dioxin and suitable alternative options for trash disposal. Further efforts that inform the public of the impacts of such practices are essential to controlling dioxin emissions.

  4. Zero Discharge Demonstration Program

    Page 1-2 of the Stage 2 LaMP states "The Lake Superior LaMP also reports the progress of the Zero Discharge Demonstration Program (ZDDP)." The stated goal of the program is to achieve zero discharge and zero emission of certain designated persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances that may degrade the ecosystem of the Lake Superior basin. The responsiveness summary (page R-23) for the LaMP expresses this much less emphatically: "The ZDDP . . . is a community-based approach that attempts to provide non-regulatory opportunities for success [by] utilizing systems, pollution prevention and other innovative approaches." This broad approach may hinder clear reporting of progress for the program.

    While the LaMP states that it is reporting on the ZDDP, it in fact does not detail the known successes of the ZDDP or provide the information necessary to assess the program's progress and effectiveness. Despite the small number of major point sources (41) present within the Lake Superior Basin, the report provides little concrete data regarding their loadings of Critical Pollutants to the lake.

    Tracking progress in regard to the point sources, as envisioned by the Commission in 1990, is still both needed and beneficial. For example, the Parties and the Commission recognize the considerable contribution made by the pulp and paper industry toward the goal of virtual elimination through reduction of dioxin discharges from their facilities. As noted in the Commission's Ninth Biennial Report, Lake Superior historically received about 20% of its dioxin load from industrial sources. Today, mostly due to improvements in pulp and paper operations, this contribution is negligible. Collation of monitoring data and continued tracking of this success story could provide encouragement for necessary actions by other sectors in the Lake Superior Basin and by all sectors in other lake basins.

    At the community level, several efforts have been undertaken that serve as an example of what is needed throughout the basin. For example, the National Wildlife Federation, in 1997, cooperated with Northland College to conduct a campus "greening" training clinic designed to reduce the purchase and use of substances that were determined to threaten the health of humans and wildlife in the Lake Superior Basin. This clinic attracted over 80 participants with representatives from seven basin campuses. Presentations included a case study on the use of paper purchasing policy to reduce dioxin and examination of the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Northland College pesticide reduction policies.

    In Ontario, the community group Thunder Bay 2002, with support from the provincial government, has established a button battery recycling program in Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie. Button batteries found in many watches and other small electronic equipment may contain as much as 2.5 grams of mercury per battery. This initiative demonstrated that significant quantities of mercury may be removed from the waste stream while effectively raising public awareness about the problem of mercury contamination.

    Another community level example is the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD), centered in Duluth, Minnesota. The WLSSD is noted as a leader in the effort to eliminate persistent toxic substances from the Lake Superior Basin. In particular, the WLSSD has focused efforts on multi-faceted voluntary approaches. It has developed a document "Blueprint for Mercury Elimination- Mercury Reduction Project Guidance for Wastewater Treatment Plants".

  5. The Threat to Human Health

    In its comments on the Stage 1 LaMP for Lake Superior, the Commission noted, "To date, the threat to human health or aquatic life is not well defined and consequently, there is little reason to expect significant support from the public or other sectors for lifestyle changes or modification to industrial processes that may be necessary to reduce loadings of Critical Pollutants." However, in-basin reductions in emissions/loadings have resulted from improvements in the pulp and paper sector and closures of mining/industrial operations. The Commission's Stage 1 review noted the existence of several fish consumption advisories due to the presence of Critical Pollutants in certain fish species. This situation still persists.

    The Commission understands that human health information for LaMPs is being compiled in a separate document and will be incorporated in further LaMP efforts. While this effort will represent a step forward, there is a specific need to define the threat to particular sub-populations of people who consume Lake Superior fish, particularly at rates far above those of the general population. The identification and enumeration of these sub-populations will allow the tracking of benefits that will accrue through implementation of the LaMP. These benefits would be derived through the future unrestricted consumption of fish species. Fish consumption and fish consumption advisories are of particular concern for First Nation/Native American populations, sport anglers, the elderly, pregnant women, and fetuses and nursing infants of mothers who consume environmentally contaminated Lake Superior fish. Confirmation of the load reductions necessary to remove the existing fish consumption advisories would allow more effective tracking of progress toward the important LaMP goal of safely allowing unrestricted consumption of fish.

  6. An ecosystem approach to the restoration and protection of beneficial uses

    As described previously, the Stage 2 LaMP does not explicitly confirm necessary reductions in loadings from all sources, but sets goals to reduce and eliminate in-basin emissions, discharges and use of Critical Pollutants that can result in loadings to Lake Superior. While there is increased recognition of the air deposition pathway in the Stage 2 LaMP, the relative significance of out-of-basin sources versus in-basin sources of Critical Pollutants is still not detailed to the extent necessary. Further effort is needed to quantify the loadings of Critical Pollutants from the various pathways and their relative contributions to enable policy decisions to be made on the sources requiring priority attention.

    As first noted in the Commission's Stage 1 LaMP comments, the scoping of the environmental problem should take a more systematic and comprehensive ecosystem approach. A thorough examination of the linkage between continued consumption of environmentally contaminated fish and possible effects on human health in the more susceptible human sub-populations could yield information that would support a more comprehensive approach to achieving necessary remedial actions in order to restore the beneficial use of unrestricted fish consumption. The current lack of quantified reduction goals for loadings of Critical Pollutants from all sources precludes an intensive examination of out-of-basin actions that are necessary to restore and protect this beneficial use.

  7. The public consultation process

    A population scattered over four jurisdictions presents a challenge to public consultation efforts in the Lake Superior Basin. The Parties have conducted or funded some useful outreach activities as well as cooperating to support the function of the Lake Superior Binational Forum (Forum). The Forum, in particular, has performed in an exemplary manner. The constructive interaction between the various sectors that are represented within its membership appears to provide a considerable benefit to the Parties' LaMP effort.

    The Commission found the Stage 3 consultation recently conducted by the Lake Superior Alliance, an international coalition of community groups, to be encouraging. Future consultation efforts conducted by the Parties should seek to ensure the same degree of interaction with the interested public. Cooperative arrangements with groups such as the Lake Superior Alliance may provide a cost-effective public consultation technique.


The Lake Superior Stage 2 LaMP does not detail goals of load reductions for the Critical Pollutants to restore beneficial uses, as required by Annex 2 of the Agreement. The failure to link necessary specific reductions in Critical Pollutant loadings to the desired restoration of beneficial uses precludes achievement of the Annex 2 requirement for a Stage 2 LaMP and may limit support for future important LaMP activities.

The LaMP does outline an aggressive pollution prevention effort for the Lake Superior Basin. While the LaMP outlines goals for zero discharge and zero emission in the Basin, it does not make clear to what extent these laudable endpoints will translate into substantive reductions in loadings of Critical Pollutants to Lake Superior. Without incorporating out-of-basin sources from the air pathway, a comprehensive plan for future progress is not possible. In order to advance the LaMP effort, a determination of load reductions of Critical Pollutants necessary to restore and protect the open waters of Lake Superior is needed.

Quantification of load reductions that are necessary to reach the goal of unrestricted fish consumption may be useful in building support and obtaining future funding for implementation efforts. Tracking reductions in contaminant levels in fish tissue should also prove to be a cost-effective means of tracking progress toward the LaMP goal of virtual elimination.