By Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday November 6, 1997
Cleaner Lakes merit priority
There is a risk that Canada and the United States are treading water, and at risk of losing ground, in cleaning up the Great Lakes . The world’s largest freshwater ecosystem is cleaner and healthier 25 years after the signing of a landmark pollution control agreement in 1972. But much of the progress that’s been achieved could be squandered. Governments are cutting environmental budgets, weakening pollution laws and enforcement, and there’s reason to worry that politicians will become indifferent to a problem that defies easy solution.
The apathy that often relegates the Great Lakes to the bottom of the political totem pole is hard to understand. Some 37 million people live on either side of the Great Lakes . They draw heavily on Great Lakes water for their drinking water, recreation, fishing, manufacturing and many other uses. The stakes are extremely high. The economy and quality of life in the Great Lakes Basin hinges on the condition of this irreplaceable resource.
There can be no complacency about past achievements — a fact that was driven home to government officials who gathered in Niagara Falls last weekend for the 25th anniversary of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Three environmental groups issued a joint report which criticized governments on both sides of the border for allowing massive amounts of toxic substances to be released into the ecosystem every day.
The watchdogs found that while a few successes have been achieved in reducing the threat posed by DDT, PCBs and some other toxic chemicals, governments are moving too slowly in accomplishing the goal of zero discharge in the agreement. Progress has been especially slow in phasing out chemicals that result in the generation and release of dioxins and furans, which pose some of the most serious threats to life. The risks to human health remain ominous. An American scientist reported on one study showing that children of women who ate Lake Ontario fish before they were born stand a chance of having lower IQs and other learning and behavioural problems later in life. Lakewide management strategies and remedial action plans for pollution hotspots are generally proceeding at what the environmentalists describe as a glacial pace. Only one of 43 areas of concern, Collingwood Harbour, has been delisted in the past 10 years.
To be sure, there are encouraging signs. The Double-crested Cormorant, a large fish-eating bird, has made an incredible recovery after being devastated by toxic chemicals. There are now more cormorants on the Great Lakes than at any time in recorded history. But the threats to the Lakes are daunting. Dangerous levels of pollution which harm humans, fish and wildlife should never be accepted as the price of progress and prosperity.
Governments must show leadership by making a renewed commitment to the ingredients of past success: cleanup plans supported with the necessary funding, an insistence on strong laws with strict enforcement, and timetables to phase out the use and production of toxic chemicals that put everyone at risk. The disturbing fact is that many politicians are, of late, going in the opposite direction. They are making short-sighted decisions which will come back to haunt this generation, and the next. Political and business leaders must accept their responsibility and mobilize an effort in which we all do our fair share to protect the Great Lakes. (Source: Hamilton Spectator editorial)