Sunday, July 08, 2007

Canadian activists: Gov't ignoring Great Lakes crisis News Staff

The federal government shows little concern over the declining quality of the Great Lakes, activists say.

Aaron Freeman, policy director with Environmental Defence, said the federal government has been sitting idly by while the American government is discussing spending US$20 billion to revitalize the lakes.

"Pollution sources in Canada are actually becoming worse, while on the U.S. side of the border, there's been a major cleanup effort," he said.

"And there has been virtually nothing on the Canadian side to match that commitment."

Freeman's remarks come in the way of a report by Environmental Defence, a local watchdog organization.

That report finds most of the fish in the lakes are too toxic to eat. The organization collected government data on Great Lakes species and found that eight categories of fish are more polluted now than they were just two years ago.

The five Great Lakes -- Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario -- make up 20 per cent of the world's fresh water supply. About 30 per cent of Canadians use water from the lakes and about half of Canada's exports are transported over them.

However, mercury from steel plans and coal power plants are wreaking havoc. As well, dioxins from incinerators, sewage, PCBs, industrial chemicals from a number of sources are also to blame for the damage.

"The Great Lakes are the lifeblood of this entire part of the world, but if people think they can take much more abuse, or that we can allow more pollution, more invasive species, then they're wrong," said Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, one of the loudest advocates to protect the country's water.

"The entire ecosystem of North America depends on the health of these lakes, and if we think that they could not disappear or substantially be reduced, we haven't learned anything from history."

Even Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty voiced his concern over the Great Lakes recently. He recently told the Canadian Press that he's "concerned that the Great Lakes have slid to the back of environmental concerns," even though there have been several warnings and public-health advisories about contaminated fish and beach closures.

But one McMaster University professor said she thinks once Canadians realize what's at stake, they'll start pushing the government to take action.

"I think we'll see things happening on Parliament Hill," Gail Krantzberg, a policy advisor on water and environmental engineering, told CTV News. "Trying to lobby politicians to not just tell us if our fish are edible or not edible, but to take real action to reduce pollution."

Environment Canada recently partnered up with the American Environmental Protection Agency to study the overall health of the lakes. The report found the Lakes still had good quality drinking water though its overall health received mixed reviews.

There has been a substantial effort over the past few decades to remove toxic chemicals from the waters but the report says it will take up to 30 years before the substances can be completely eliminated from the lakes.

With a report from CTV's Kathy Tomlinson and files from The Canadian Press

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