International Joint Commission
United States and Canada

May 14, 2003
Cornwall, Ontario

International Joint Commission Makes Recommendations on Government Cleanup Efforts in the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern

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As experts gather from around the world at the “Large River Ecosystems – Under Stress” conference in Cornwall, Ontario, the International Joint Commission (IJC) said in a report released today at the opening, that while it is pleased with the progress to date in cleaning up contamination in the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern the job is still not done. A significant volume of PCB-contaminated sediment remains in the Grasse River, a U.S. tributary to the St. Lawrence River, and an unspecified quantity of mercury-contaminated sediment remains in sites near Cornwall, Ontario. The IJC says it has concerns about the continuing threat to human and ecosystem health posed by the remaining contaminated sediment in the area.

The report, St. Lawrence River Status Assessment , assesses the progress of the U.S. and Canadian federal, state and provincial governments in cleaning up the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern. The area stretches on the Ontario side from the Moses-Saunders dam to the eastern outlet of Lake St. Francis and, on the New York side, the corresponding area around Massena. It details major successes and provides advice regarding planning and implementing cleanup activities.

The St. Lawrence River drains the most industrialized region in North America – the Great Lakes basin. Industrial facilities located in Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York historically discharged significant quantities of contaminants, including mercury, zinc, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and lead to the St. Lawrence River. As a result, this area was designated by the governments as one of 43 Areas of Concern under the 1987 Protocol to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. These are areas where poor water quality had caused impairments to human uses of the water and its ability to support aquatic life to a greater extent than other parts of the basin.

“The removal of contaminated sediment at the ALCOA East site is one of the most significant engineering accomplishments for PCB remediation to date in the Great Lakes basin. Approximately 50,000 cubic meters of sediment were removed containing more than 20,000 pounds of PCBs. This, in addition to the sediment removed previously by General Motors, is a big step forward for the area and is an excellent example of local industry helping to clean up the legacy of pollution in the area,” says Dennis Schornack, chair of the IJC’s U.S Section.

The Right Honorable Herb Gray, chair of the Canadian section of the IJC said, “While progress to date in cleaning up contaminated sediment has been excellent on the New York side of the river, the remaining contaminated-sediment sites in both the U.S. and Ontario portions of the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern are extensive.” Mr. Gray continued, “The potential threat to human health from these contaminated sites, particularly the health of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne, remains a concern to the Commission. Downstream locations, such as Lake St. Francis, are of particular interest and long term monitoring of ecosystem recovery after removal of the contaminated sediment is extremely important.”

In its report on the governments’ progress to clean up the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern, the IJC addresses both the successes of and the remaining challenges to the restoration of the area. Notable among the successes are:

  • Remedial efforts by New York industries have significantly reduced the volume of contaminated sediment in the New York portion of the Area of Concern.
  • A management framework to coordinate implementation of identified remedial actions has been established for the Ontario portion of the Area of Concern and implementation is well underway.

To address the remaining challenges to the restoration of the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern, the IJC made the following recommendations:

  • The management of contaminated sediment. Make decisions regarding potential remedial actions for the remaining contaminated sediment sites in both the U.S. and Ontario portions of the Area of Concern. As remediation is completed, ensure that suitable monitoring of reductions in contaminant levels in fish tissue is undertaken and maintained.
  • Prioritization of remedial actions and tracking of the restoration of beneficial uses. Implement remedial actions that will provide the greatest contribution to restoration of beneficial uses at the lowest costs. Confirm time frames for remedial actions, such as the completion of remedial measures at Cornwall’s sewage treatment plant. Ensure the timely and appropriate remediation of the GM hazardous waste site. Agencies should undertake monitoring suitable for tracking the restoration of beneficial uses.
  • Enhancing and protecting the health of the Akwesasne community. Encourage cooperative efforts to address outstanding issues that impede remediation of PCB-contaminated areas. Ensure support for continued monitoring of human exposure at Akwesasne to persistent toxic substances by The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, New York Department of Health or others.

The IJC is a Canada-United States international organization established by The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the two Governments prevent and resolve disputes over use of waters along the U.S. and Canada boundary. Under the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement , the IJC assesses progress by the two counties to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.

Jennifer Day          Windsor, ON (519) 257-6733
Bruce Kirschner      Windsor, ON (519) 257-6710

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