”Great Lakes fish pose a threat to human health.” That statement comes not from an environmental group… but from a commission appointed by the U.S. and Canadian governments to monitor the quality of the Great Lakes. And… the International Joint Commission says the governments of both nations are not doing enough to clean up the toxins that contaminate the fish. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the Commission’s warnings:
“Great Lakes fish pose a threat to human health.” That statement comes
not from an environmental group… but from a commission appointed by the
U.S. and Canadian governments to monitor the quality of the Great Lakes.
And the International Joint Commission says the governments of both
nations are not doing enough to clean up the toxins that contaminate the
fish. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the
The International Joint Commission… or the IJC… says in its biennial
report that the integrity of the Great Lakes Ecosystem continues to be
compromised. In its last report two years ago… the IJC admonished the U.S.
and Canadian governments… saying “there’s much work to be done to
improve the quality of the Great Lakes Basin. Now, the latest report makes
it clear that work was not done. Fabien Lengelle is a spokesperson for the
IJC in Canada.
“In the past two years, the Commission has seen very little
activity and now is definitely sounding the alarm on procrastination on the
part of governments. It’s a harsher tone this time around.”
Harsher to the point that the commission is telling the governments that
the Great Lakes is so polluted that fish from the lakes are a threat to the
health of those who eat them and to their unborn children. Lengelle says
the IJC could no longer ignore the scientific evidence.
“This is really the first time the Commission has gone out and
said ‘This is a fact. We should use the precautionary approach. We should
protect our people and some of those contaminants do
harm the population in several serious ways.”
The IJC says the governments of Canada and the US need to do more to
reduce air-borne toxins from power plants and automobiles that end up in
the Great Lakes. More also needs to be done about polluted runoff from
fields and roads. Toxic substances… especially mercury and PCB’s… can be
in that runoff… then end up in the fish… and in the people who eat the
Thomas Baldini is the chair of the U.S. sector of the International Joint
Commission. He says the first priority is to make sure people who catch and
eat the fish know about the risks.
“We’re saying that state, provincial, and federal government should
require that sport fish consumption advisories state plainly that eating
Great Lakes sports fish may lead to birth anomalies. Now,
we’re not saying ‘Don’t eat fish.’ We are not saying that. What we’re saying
is that those advisories have to be clearly stated.”
Right now fish consumption advisories are different from state to state
and from province to province. Fish from one area might be just as risky to
eat as from another, but because of the way the advisory language is
written people might get the idea that fish from one area is safer than
fish from the other.
The U.S. EPA says it supports the International Joint Commission’s
recommendations. Administrator Carol Browner says her agency doesn’t
have the authority to arbitrarily issue fish consumption advisories in the
states, but she says it can make some recommendations.
“I’m certainly going to make sure and we’re going to make sure at
EPA that the states do everything they can to simplify the language to make
sure that the people most at risk, pregnant women, children, parents of
children are getting these fish consumption advisories.”
Browner says the EPA will continue to lobby congress for more money to
clean up the Great Lakes, but the administration currently seems to be
losing that battle as a budget request for more money is in danger of being
The International Joint Commission’s tenth biennial report did not tackle
commercial fishing. The waters surrounding that issue are much more
murky and the IJC could easily find itself snared in a political battle in
both the US and Canada. However, the IJC spokesperson in Canada, Fabien
Lengelle, says the commission is not ignoring it.
“It is possible that the Commission will look at commercial
fishing the next time around in
its eleventh biennial report.”
In the meantime, the International Joint Commission is warning the US and
Canadian governments if they don’t work to fulfill the terms and spirit of
the Great Lakes water quality agreement they signed more than 20 years
ago, there can be little hope of fully restoring and protecting the lakes. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Lester Graham.