1999 GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY FORUM
SEPTEMBER 24-26, 1999
LIGHTLY EDITED, VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT
SATURDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 25
QUESTIONS AND DISCUSSION
Hy Schwartz, Sierra Club
Harvey Shear is a neighbour of mine, but the purpose of my talk is very difficult. Very simple, I am delighted. Ten years ago, when I first came to one of these meetings my hair was still colored blond, we had all kinds of pickets screaming like mad at the government. Over the years you have done a very, very good job. You've really encouraged us that the Great Lakes can be rebuilt. It is a wonderful thing for me to hear and to congratulate you all of that. However, as the story goes on the tv, that's only half the story.
What happens to the garbage? What happens to the toxins? What happens to the PCB and the mercury? And all the other sediments that you pick up. What are you doing with garbage? Ten years down the line the kids are gone. Ten, twenty years down the line they'll have a new problem. Where are you dumping it? How are you reprocessing it? Are you re-using it? This is a very major problem. It is the result of a good clean-up, but you still have to get rid of the garbage, and how are you getting rid of it? Are you storing it in mines? Are you storing for 20 years down the line for a new set of problems? How to dispose of salvaged mercury, spent nuclear fuel, all the other good stuff. It's a hard question. I don't expect an answer now, but I just want a commitment that somebody will look into this. Are you going to put it into a garbage box, an old mine place? What are you doing with it? How are you going to clean it up 20 - 25 years down the line?
Before we respond to that, I'd like to ask Dave Cowgill to respond to Elaine's last question regarding the funding, demonstrating the economic cost-benefit analysis.
Dave Cowgill, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Just a couple of things. One report that was released by the Water Quality Board, it's a draft report on economic benefits of sediment remediation, is available and is also on the IJC Website. The Northeast Midwest Institute out of Washington, D.C. has been conducting a Great Lakes economics evaluation project. They have a panel of economists who are looking economic tools for trying to work on techniques for providing values or estimating values of different components of the Great Lakes ecosystem. It's a step in that direction. There are also a few projects that have been undertaken. The Thunder Bay example was mentioned and where we were going to provide some funding to the Northeast Midwest Institute to look at three Great Lakes Areas of Concern to try to work on, and scope out, what techniques might be used to estimate the economic benefit of sediment clean-up in some Areas of Concern. I think there are lot of people who share your interest in this and are trying to make some headway on it. It is very difficult.
Thank you Dave.
Maybe I can just start by responding, at least preliminarily, to Hy's comments, and thank you very much for those comments and questions. The question you raised about what are we doing with the garbage is really a big challenge. Absolutely. There is no doubt that ...
Sorry if I put this a terrible, but it's a good challenge ...
Unidentified Speaker (Continued)
It certainly is. When you think about it from the point of view of contaminated sediment and what we do when we take that out, each one of those, in some cases those situations are unique. Some of them, we can look at remediating the sediment itself. We are doing that through buyer remediation, as the Thunder Bay example that we used. Others, it may, containment may be the best answer.
Unidentified Speaker (Continued)
Well in a secure facility in some fashion. The point I am making, Hy, is that each of those situations are somewhat unique and we need to take a look at them and see what is best and feasible for that situation. You also raised the issue of general household garbage. Certainly all municipalities around the basin are struggling with how they handle that. This speaks to both the amount that is going into the stream when each of us put it out every week to be picked up and how we handle it at the receiving end. My only point is that I totally agree with you. It is a big challenge and one that continues to keep us quite active.
When I said garbage, I meant the general term, PCBs, mercury, toxic chemicals. Are they broken down or are you going to just keep them in a box somewhere, or can you take them apart and re-use them?
Maybe I can ask John Carey to talk to some specifics about the toxics.
John Carey, Environment Canada
Well, I just would like to point out from the research side, because that is the side that I'm coming from, the Great Lakes Program in both countries is sponsoring a lot of research and in situ treatment, which is rather new. Rather than digging things up and moving them somewhere -- if you don't want them here, move them over there -- what we are trying to do is find ways to treat them while they are where they are. In fact, in Randall Reef, for example, in Hamilton Harbour, that project that was mentioned before that's contaminated with PAHs, we are looking at how we can inject nutrients to stimulate biological remediation while it's right in the sediments, so we don't have to move it and create another problem somewhere else. I think that the Great Lakes Program in terms of the research side, this is not, there's a few of these that have been patented and are operational now and I can tell you that technology developed in the past is part of the Great Lakes Research Program. It has been used in Boston Harbour, Hong Kong Harbour, Hong Kong Airport to do in situ remediation. We are trying that but it's still an evolving art. That is, we think, one of the directions for the future, just to address the issue that you meant. It is still a research issue.