Please Avoid Bailout Without Benefit
It would certainly be beneficial to have Great Lakes jobs and ecologically improved lakes, but let’s subject the money spent on the lakes to examination as least as critical as that used to approve financial or automotive bail outs. The money has to do something!
Municipalities have lagged in complying with clean water standards and bailing them out would reduce sewage flow to the lakes. This effort is straightforward and the costs and benefits are understood. We have successfully accomplished projects in this arena and know the effects.
Purifying Great Lake waters of toxics by dredging “hot spots” is a dream that should be carefully examined. In its calculation of billions of dollars of benefits, the Brookings Institute assumes that this dredging will eliminate Fish Consumption Advisories. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The chemicals such as PCBs, toxaphene, and chlordane that make fish toxic were banned in the 1970s and 1980s. Their concentrations dropped quickly, but not to safe levels. Regulatory programs of Zero Discharge, Clean Sweep, and Air Toxics Reduction of millions of tons of emissions all promised improved lakes and failed.
The levels of PCBs and the banned pesticides remain stagnant in the Great Lakes. Lake Superior trout contain several times the concentration of toxaphene that would classify dirt as hazardous waste. Our State and Provincial governments have handled that problem by dropping toxaphene from Fish Consumption Guidelines. That is shameful. Dredging PCB hotspots in Lake Michigan and thinking that it will take the toxaphene out of Lake Superior trout is equally shameful.
International scientists have shown that continuing global uses of PCBs, toxaphene, and chlordane contaminate the Arctic and all northern waters. Persistent toxics present in the Great Lakes are not coming from sediments; they are coming from the air. Please dedicate money and effort toward showing developing countries how to produce food and power industries without PCBs and the toxic persistent pesticides we banned decades ago. That is the only path to toxic free Great Lakes.
Melvin J. Visser is the author of Cold, Clear, and Deadly: Unraveling a toxic legacy (Michigan State University Press.) He currently works to raise the awareness of the pollution of North American air and waters from PCB and "banned" pesticide uses in developing countries. See coldclearanddeadly.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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