What are Chemicals of Mutual Concern?

By Kevin Bunch, IJC

When the United States and Canada signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 2012, the two countries agreed to draw up a list of chemicals of mutual concern (CMCs): human-made substances that pose a threat to human health and the environment that the governments want to target for binational action. The governments have agreed to an initial list of CMCs and are drafting strategies on how to reduce their presence in the Great Lakes region and deal with existing contamination.

In May 2016, the first eight CMCs were announced by the countries. The list includes mercury, flame retardants like hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), perfluorinated compounds (PFOAs, PCOS and PFCAs), and short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs). The names are as messy as their impacts are long-lasting and far-reaching, as they can build up in tissues and cause health problems for animals and people alike.

Hamilton Harbour, located on the western end of Lake Ontario, is just one site in the Great Lakes dealing with the chemicals of mutual concern named by the United States and Canada. Credit: Environment and Climate Change Canada
Hamilton Harbour, located on the western end of Lake Ontario, is just one site in the Great Lakes dealing with the chemicals of mutual concern named by the United States and Canada. Credit: Environment and Climate Change Canada

The two parties released a series of reports on each chemical. The researchers found that even though most PCBs were banned in the 1970s and usage for special circumstances such as in scientific instruments and transformers has fallen for decades, levels still routinely exceed guidelines and drive fish consumption advisories in all the Great Lakes. This is because the chemicals are long-lasting, are wrapped up in the food web and bioaccumulate in those species further up the chain, such as lake trout or gulls.

According to a series of documents from the CMC Identification Team – comprised of experts from both countries and appointed by the governments – mercury is also on a downward trend in the Great Lakes, but is still at threatening levels to the environment and human health. Moreover, a 2015 IJC report on air deposition of mercury in the Great Lakes found that mercury levels in some species of fish are increasing. PBDE concentrations in fish like walleye and lake trout, along with sediment and gull eggs, exceeded safe guidelines and show no clear evidence of declining at this point; the same is true for the perfluorinated compounds, according to the Identification Team.

A gull incubates its eggs near Saginaw Bay, Michigan. Legacy contaminants such as PCBs have been found in the eggs even recently. Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service
A gull incubates its eggs near Saginaw Bay, Michigan. Legacy contaminants such as PCBs have been found in the eggs even recently. Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

But what do these chemicals do to living creatures? HBCDs are toxic to aquatic species and can cause respiratory, gastrointestinal and skin irritation in humans. PBDEs can impact thyroid and metabolic systems. Mercury can cause a slew of neurological problems ranging from speech and motor skills to cognitive development issues in children. PCBs can cause skin irritation in adults and development issues in children, as well as cancer in animals. The effects of perfluorinated compounds isn’t well known, but studies suggest it could increase cancer rates.

Compiling a list is just the first step, and the governments are now drafting strategies to deal with CMCs. According to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement) and its annex on CMCs, plans being considered include research, monitoring, surveillance, and pollution prevention and control actions. The IJC also is working on a series of recommendations for a strategy on PBDEs, with a final report due this fall.

In Canada, all eight CMCs are already covered by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999’s list of toxic substances, as well as under its Chemicals Management Plan. CMCs already are subject to federal risk management efforts by the government, which include environmental guidelines at the federal level. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) also is supporting the creation of provincial guidelines to help deal with CMCs. ECCC handles monitoring and surveillance for water quality in the Great Lakes watershed.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency handles the monitoring and surveillance of water quality – including the effects of CMCs — in the watershed, and funds research on the trends, presence and effects of CMCs through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The chemicals are regulated in the US depending on how they’re used and released, and where they are made. Those regulations exist on the federal, state and local level, though for the federal government those efforts stem from the Toxic Substances Control Act, updated most recently on June 22, 2016. In the PROP, the US government notes that it will be more closely aligning its federal actions with those on state and local levels to improve its CMC-specific efforts around the Great Lakes.

The two countries have just started – naming the first CMCs was only one step in the process – and they are drafting a second set of CMCs to add to the binational list and coming up with strategies to address the initial eight. An initial nomination period that allowed for the public to forward chemicals for consideration ended on Aug. 29, 2016. There is no timeline on when the second round of chemicals will be announced.

Industrial areas, like this one on the St. Clair River near Sarnia, Ontario, have historically been one source for the pollutants found in the CMC list in the Great Lakes basin. Credit: Environment and Climate Change Canada
Industrial areas, like this one on the St. Clair River near Sarnia, Ontario, have historically been one source for the pollutants found in the CMC list in the Great Lakes basin. Credit: Environment and Climate Change Canada

Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.

ParticipateIJC: Why Should You Speak Out for the Great Lakes?

By Frank Bevacqua, IJC

For the next several months, the IJC will be talking with citizens about what kind of a job the governments of Canada and the United States are doing to restore and protect the Great Lakes. It’s one of the accountability mechanisms built into the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

In addition to holding meetings around the basin, the IJC has launched ParticipateIJC, a website for sharing conversations and videos from those meetings and gathering public comment on progress made by our governments. We also will host an online discussion every month until June 2017 on a topic related to the lakes.

In November, we’re inviting discussion on how to facilitate more meaningful public engagement in work under the Agreement, and the efforts needed to be more inclusive of First Nations, minority communities, the younger generation and other basin citizens. In December, we will talk about how to anticipate and adapt to climate change impacts.

You are invited to suggest ideas for future discussions. Monthly discussions on ParticipateIJC will focus on the conversations that people have told us need to take place.

frank bevacqua participate ijc engagement
Frank Bevacqua

When I talk about the IJC’s public engagement process, people ask me whether it is really worth their effort to participate. Do citizens have any real power to affect the future of the Great Lakes? In my experience, yes. I have organized and participated in a great many IJC public consultations and have seen how a chorus of strong voices, or even a single thoughtful comment, can change the outcome.

If citizens had not demanded action at certain times, we would not have limits on phosphorus in laundry detergent, funding to clean up Areas of Concern or conservation of dunes and other treasured natural areas. The commitment by governments to make Lake Superior the pilot project for zero discharge of persistent toxic substances and the innovative efforts that followed resulted from a comment by one person at an IJC public meeting.

five reasons participate ijcSo your voice can indeed make a difference. The IJC invites you to read comments and post about the recent progress report by the governments of Canada and the United States at ParticipateIJC.org.  The governments explain their work under the Agreement in presentations that may be viewed on the site.

Public support was critical for addressing the challenges faced by the Great Lakes in the past and will be critical for addressing the challenges of today and tomorrow. The IJC is striving to facilitate dialogue among citizens in both of our countries and we look forward to hearing from you!

Frank Bevacqua is the public information officer in the IJC’s US Section Office in Washington, D.C., office.

 

Toronto and Milwaukee Meetings Show Strong Public Interest and Commitment to Great Lakes

By Sally Cole-Misch and Allison Voglesong, IJC

Impacts of climate change and effective resiliency strategies. Nearshore pollution and implications for human health. Success of nutrient management programs and alternate control scenarios. Engagement in Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement programs by the public, First Nations, Métis Nation and tribal communities.

These are just some topics discussed at October public meetings on progress under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement by scientists, government, nongovernment and industry representatives, and the public. Some discussions provided good news on progress to restore and protect the lakes, while others pointed to serious challenges that will require more extensive human and financial resources to tackle. It’s encouraging that almost 1,000 people attended public IJC meetings in Toronto and Milwaukee, and stated their sincere interest in learning about Agreement progress and participating in resolving Great Lakes issues.

Toronto meetings

 The Canadian and US governments hosted the Great Lakes Public Forum in early October, where joint presentations by representatives of each country provided the status of work on each topic in the Agreement’s annexes: Areas of Concern, lakewide management, chemicals of mutual concern, nutrients, vessel discharges, aquatic invasive species, native species and habitat, groundwater, climate change impacts, and the importance of science to protecting the Great Lakes.

For each annex topic they also assessed the health and trends in the lakes. The status of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes was rated as poor and deteriorating, for example, with 189 introduced since 1839 and all impacting the ecosystem at moderate or higher levels. While no new invasives have entered the lakes in the past decade due to ballast water regulations, other pathways have emerged.

Chart of overall status of issues addressed in the Agreement, as presented at the Great Lakes Public Forum by the Canadian and US governments. Source: ECCC
Chart of overall status of issues addressed in the Agreement, as presented at the Great Lakes Public Forum by the Canadian and US governments. Source: ECCC

The IJC livestreamed the conference in partnership with Detroit Public Television and TVO, and videos are available at ParticipateIJC.org. You also can read the governments’ progress report and provide your comments at ParticipateIJC.org.

The IJC hosted two sessions during the Forum. On the second afternoon, after participants had listened to the governments’ progress reports on each Agreement topic, citizens provided input to the IJC on their views of Agreement progress. Several major issues were addressed repeatedly across geographic and demographic groups:

— the need for more and enhanced public engagement by governments, which was identified as slow, process-oriented, underfunded, and often missing the voices of those communities where the least Agreement progress has occurred

— greater involvement of indigenous communities in all aspects of Agreement processes and organizations

— improved funding, coordination, and regulations for integrated watershed management to protect nearshore habitats and wetlands

— an expedited, improved process to identify, monitor and implement regulations and action plans for chemicals of mutual concern

— the need to consider radionuclides and radioactive nuclear waste from energy production as a chemical of mutual concern, and take action to prevent their storage in the basin

— a lack of specifics in the governments’ progress report on timeframes, locations for actions, and implementation funding for nutrient management. Recommendations included focusing solutions in proportion to identified nutrient pollution sources, using innovative solutions, and using existing regulations to spur action

— the need to develop adaptation actions as a result of climate change, with heightened binational commitment to research and action.

toronto collage
Scenes from the IJC’s public meetings in Toronto, clockwise from upper left: Commissioners Moy, Pollack and Bouchard listen to comments on Agreement progress during a session at the Great Lakes Public Forum; Toronto’s City Hall, site of the evening public meeting; Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawks of Akwesasne, Cornwall, Ontario, presents his thoughts to the IJC; small groups discuss toxic contaminants in Lake Ontario in the evening meeting; Lake Ontario waterfront, outside the Allstream Convention Centre; David Clark, director of Toronto Urban Fishing Ambassadors, discusses the impact of sewage overflows to habitat in a small group conversation; John Jackson of the IJC’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board welcomes everyone to the evening meeting. Credit: A. Voglesong/S. Cole-Misch

The IJC also held an evening public meeting at Toronto’s City Hall to focus on local and regional efforts to restore the collective Toronto watershed and Lake Ontario.

After presentations by five local experts in the areas of waterfront restoration, the Toronto area Remedial Action Plan (RAP), wastewater treatment and combined sewer overflows, toxic contaminants, and fish habitat, attendees divided into small groups to discuss findings and recommendations in these topics.

Regional efforts to develop a waterfront trail that brings residents back to the lake were highlighted as a major success story, as was progress under the RAP. Green infrastructure was listed as a priority, as was education and outreach to improve awareness of combined sewer overflows and their impact on the lake’s nearshore region and recreational uses. While the region moves forward to upgrade its wastewater systems, participants recommended that outfall pipes are extended to prevent sewer overflows from contaminating beaches and other areas where residents can enjoy recreation and near valuable fish habitat. A summary report of the meetings is available here.

Milwaukee meetings

 Two weeks after the Forum, the IJC travelled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to hear citizen perspectives on the western side of the basin about the status of the Great Lakes, and learn about successes and challenges in that city’s watershed and Lake Michigan.

After a tour of the Milwaukee waterfront and river harbor where commissioners and staff learned about community efforts to transform the area from an industrial port to a mixed-use area for industrial, residential, recreational and natural habitat uses, several scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences presented their latest findings to the IJC and interested citizens. Presentations ranged from an overview of changes in Lake Michigan over the last 20 years to the impact of future climate change variability on lake levels, unforeseen consequences of dreissenid mussels, cladophora and avian botulism, source tracking bacteria, aging infrastructure and beach health, long-term generation impacts of mercury exposure, improving hypoxia and hypereutrophication in Green Bay and the complexities of engaging stakeholders in these issues. To view their presentations, go to this link.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences, site of the IJC’s Milwaukee meetings. Credit: S. Cole-Misch
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences, site of the IJC’s Milwaukee meetings. Credit: S. Cole-Misch

That evening, citizens joined with IJC, scientists and community experts to consider the status of various local initiatives. Presentations highlighted programs to develop green infrastructure, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s 2035 Vision to respond to a growing community and the effects of climate change, the city’s Water Centric Cities Initiative for sustainable growth, citizen-based water monitoring, nutrient reduction, and the status of the state’s waters. In small group discussions, participants discussed these topics further and developed a series of findings and recommendations for action on a local and basinwide basis. Read the summary report here.

milwaukee collage
Clockwise from upper left: Milwaukee Riverkeeper Cheryl Nenn presents findings from citizen monitoring of the Milwaukee River; Mayor Tom Barrett welcomes everyone to the evening meeting; Dr. Mike Carvan discusses the long-term impacts of mercury exposure; Karen Sands of the city’s sewer district outlines green infrastructure goals; Harbor District Executive Director Lilith Fowler takes commissioners and staff on a tour of the Milwaukee waterfront aboard the school’s research vessel, the Neeskay; evening meeting participants discuss specific issues in breakout groups; IJC US Chair Lana Pollack, Dr. Kevin Fermanich, Dr. Sandra McLellan and Dr. Patrick Robinson speak to participants; Jane Elder of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters presents its 2016 Waters of Wisconsin report; the evening meeting audience; the Milwaukee skyline. Credit: S. Cole-Misch/A. Voglesong

The IJC is considering all of the valuable information received over the course of these meetings as it prepares a draft report on progress to restore and protect the Great Lakes. To be part of the conversation and receive updates on this assessment, visit ParticipateIJC.org.

Sally Cole-Misch is the public affairs officer at the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario.

Allison Voglesong is the Michigan Sea Grant fellow, also at the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office.

US Strengthens Toxic Substances Law

By Kevin Bunch, IJC

US President Barack Obama signs the Frank Lautenberg Act into law June 22, 2016, amending and strengthening the Toxic Substances Control Act. Credit: EPA
US President Barack Obama signs the Frank Lautenberg Act into law June 22, 2016, amending and strengthening the Toxic Substances Control Act. Credit: EPA

Critics of the US Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 viewed the law as a flawed piece of regulation that did little to safeguard people and the environment from toxic chemicals since it passed in 1976. The law sat on the books for 40 years, leaving the Environmental Protection Agency with few powers to regulate chemicals. That changed in June 2016 with the passage of the Chemical Safety for the 21st Century – or Frank Lautenberg – Act, amending and strengthening that original piece of legislation.

Since the Great Lakes are so large and water gets flushed from the system slowly, long-lived chemicals like PCBs and DDT have a lot more time to build up in the food web – collecting in fish, birds, wildlife and sediments. The Great Lakes also have a history of intensive industrial activity that has served as a factor in the buildup of chemicals, and coupled with the long-range transportation of chemicals through the atmosphere they face a unique threat unless control programs are put in place to help.

Under the old TSCA law, the EPA was limited on what it could do. The government needed evidence that a specific chemical being used commercially posed a health risk before it could require testing, but without testing it was difficult to get that evidence.

Companies also could claim that their chemical products were trade secrets, which in turn kept local and state government officials, medical professionals and the public in the dark. It also left all 62,000 chemicals in commercial use prior to 1976 to stay on the market without being tested first. Also, while the EPA had the ability to review new chemicals for 90 days to see if they posed an “unreasonable risk” to public health before they entered the market, companies weren’t required to do any toxicity testing first to help the EPA in its review. In practice, The Washington Post reported that by 2015 only 200 chemicals were tested to see if they posed a risk, and only five chemicals or chemical groups were successfully restricted.

There are a slew of changes that give EPA new authority to regulate chemicals that didn’t exist under the old law. The agency is now required to evaluate chemicals already in commercial use, as well as new ones, against new safety standards that include considerations for vulnerable members of the population – including infants, children, the elderly and pregnant women.

For the Great Lakes region – which continues to deal with Areas of Concern and chemical pollution throughout the basin – the new law’s impact is still unknown.

Bradley Grams, federal chemical programs coordinator with EPA’s Region 5 office, said EPA is developing specific guidelines as the agency implements the new law. Those guidelines should fall under the existing 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement’s Chemicals of Mutual Concern annex.

As part of its implementation plan, the EPA needs to finalize a process to identify those high-priority chemicals the agency will evaluate, and identify its initial 10 chemicals for risk evaluation. The EPA plans to have the first 10 chemicals identified in mid-December, with assessment plans announced by June 2017.

The EPA has an email list set up for members of the public interested in receiving TSCA news and other chemical safety news alerts, and will take comments on proposed rules related to TSCA through the government’s regulations.gov website.

Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.

Great Lakes Watermark: Lake Ontario Restoration Progressing Swimmingly Well

By IJC staff

During October’s Great Lakes Public Forum in Toronto, Ontario, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and the IJC continued gathering stories about our precious shared waters from forum attendees. You can watch, hear, and read all the Great Lakes Watermark stories from this partnership at: watermarkproject.com/ijcgreatlakes. Have a Great Lakes story to share? Submit yours online today.

Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna remembers growing up on the shores of Hamilton Harbour on Lake Ontario and hopes that the rehabilitation efforts there will make it swimmable in her lifetime.

Great Lakes Trust founder and Wilfrid Laurier University professor Loren King couldn’t swim on his local Lake Ontario beaches growing up, either, but has since swum 51 kilometers from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto to raise funds for its continued restoration and protection.

See previously featured Great Lakes Watermarks here.

catherine mckenna

https://www.watermarkproject.ca/watermark/a0d0B00000G5GVcQAN

loren king watermark

https://www.watermarkproject.ca/watermark/a0d0B00000G5GVXQA3

 

Lake Ontario Fish Need Their Vitamins, Too

By Kevin Bunch, IJC

Predatory fish like trout and salmon seem to be facing a vitamin deficiency in Lake Ontario, and the culprit could be one of their prey fish species, the alewife.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Dimitry Gorsky releases a lake trout back into the lower Niagara River. Credit: USFWS
US Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Dimitry Gorsky releases a lake trout back into the lower Niagara River. Credit: USFWS

Researchers noticed in fall 2014 that steelhead trout migrating in the Salmon River were acting abnormally due to seemingly poor vision; anglers were even reporting deaths. After investigating, officials found that these fish were suffering from thiamin deficiency.

Thiamin, also called vitamin B1, isn’t something the fish (or any animal) can make themselves. They need to get it from their diet, which includes invasive species like alewife, rainbow smelt, and round goby. Dr. Jacques Rinchard, associate professor at the State University of New York’s Brockport campus, said thiamin deficiency has been a major challenge to fisheries biologists and managers in the Great Lakes since the late 1960s-early 1970s when problems were first seen in salmon and trout species in Lakes Michigan and Huron. Alewives are not native to those lake systems, and eventually the deficiency was linked to the alewives the fish have been eating.

Alewives are a key part of the salmon diet, Rinchard said. “In Lake Huron when the alewife (population) crashed, we noticed natural reproduction of lake trout in the lake again, indicating a link between alewives and the thiamin deficiency.”

Alewives swim in a fish run. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso
Alewives swim in a fish run. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

Steven LaPan, the Great Lakes Fisheries section head with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said alewives have an enzyme called thiaminase, which breaks down the thiamin in their systems. What causes the amount of that enzyme to change in alewives from year-to-year is unknown, LaPan said.

But the impact is clear. Some predatory fish species that eat alewives are unknowingly depleting the thiamin in their system, causing a vitamin deficiency. This was one of the major factors that led populations of trout and salmon to collapse in Lake Ontario when alewives started becoming more abundant: both species were eating more alewives and getting sick because of it (they also suffered from habitat loss, overfishing and invasive species like sea lampreys). To contend with the alewives, Pacific salmon like chinook and coho were stocked in the Great Lakes to control the alewife population and allow lake trout and Atlantic salmon to recover. The thiaminase affects them too, but not as severely.

Graduate student Matt Futia from the College at Brockport-SUNY measures thiamin concentration in fish tissue. Credit: Matt Futia
Graduate student Matt Futia from the College at Brockport-SUNY measures thiamin concentration in fish tissue. Credit: Matt Futia

Rinchard’s lab at SUNY-Brockport is working with the US Geological Survey and Cornell University to research the link between alewives and thiamin deficiency in Lake Ontario. Preliminary results should be available in early 2017.

Fishery programs can help offset the impact of thiamin deficiency. Eggs can be treated with thiamin baths at a hatchery to make sure the fry develop properly and are healthy – a process undertaken by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Naturally producing populations like lake trout or steelhead trout can’t be assisted like that, and alewife control efforts are the main way to help those species. It is possible to inject migrating steelhead with thiamin so that their eggs are healthy, but it isn’t a viable option for a system like Lake Ontario.

Another possibility is letting chinook and coho salmon slash the alewife population, similar to what happened in Lake Huron (though food scarcity also was an issue there). While that would be a boon to native fish populations, LaPan said the sport fishing industry in the area has found success with introduced Pacific salmon species, so managers can’t let the alewife get wiped out if they want to maintain that predator in Lake Ontario.

The thiamin deficiency doesn’t appear to be as severe across the entirety of Lake Ontario, either. LaPan said alewive tissue samples from the Niagara River, Rochester and Cape Vincent found a drop in thiamin amounts from the west end of the lake to the east. This is consistent with the fact that most nutrients entering the lake come from the Niagara River and  are used as the water travels eastward.

New York DEC and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry are considering a 20 percent reduction in Chinook salmon stocking, but that is mostly to keep pace with an alewife population weakness after the excessively cold winters of 2013 and 2014, LaPan said. On the New York side of the lake, the state imposes catch limits on lake trout (two a day with size restrictions) and Atlantic salmon (one a day), while anglers can still get take a combination of three Pacific salmon species and steelhead. Ontario allows one Atlantic salmon to be caught per day and up to three lake trout for properly licensed anglers on its side of the lake. The province also allows up to five Pacific salmon species to be caught, and up to three steelhead trout.

USGS scientists Ross Abbett and Rich Chiavelli watch salmon swim into troughs at the New York State Salmon River Hatchery. Credit: USGS
USGS scientists Ross Abbett and Rich Chiavelli watch salmon swim into troughs at the New York State Salmon River Hatchery. Credit: USGS

Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on Nov. 14, 2016, to correct the type of fish referenced in problems first seen in Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Get Involved: Marine Debris, Bottled Water, Algal Blooms

By Jeff Kart

A bear cub in Wisconsin. Credit: Jon DeJong
A bear cub in Wisconsin. Credit: Jon DeJong

Fall is here and winter officially begins Dec. 21, but it’s no time to hibernate when it comes to public involvement. Bear these items in mind.

Microplastics: Thanks to those who have taken the time to draw up comments on proposed IJC recommendations on microplastics (due Nov. 10). Watch for our final report in the next few months.

Marine Debris: Pass along information about a Marine Debris Art Contest from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s open to students in grades K-8 and the deadline is Nov. 30. Winning entries will be featured in a 2018 Marine Debris Calendar.

The fish here is a winning entry from the 2017 calendar, by eighth-grader Malley M. of Michigan
The fish here is a winning entry from the 2017 calendar, by eighth-grader Malley M. of Michigan

Bottled Water: Discarded water bottles can end up in our lakes and contribute to microplastic pollution (see the fish’s tail, above). Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has proposed a moratorium on new or increased permits for water bottling companies for reasons of water security.

The proposed moratorium would prohibit any new or increased use of groundwater in Ontario for water bottling until Jan. 1, 2019, to allow time for a comprehensive look at Ontario’s groundwater resources and rules that govern water bottling facilities that take groundwater. “This will help enhance water security in Ontario, by ensuring the wise use and management of groundwater in the face of climate change and increasing demand due to population growth,” according to the Ministry. Comments are being taken until Dec. 1.

Algal blooms: The onset of colder weather will cut the threat of harmful algal blooms. But the issue still looms large, and has been the focus of efforts by Canada and the US to cut nutrient inputs to Lake Erie. The Ontario government is taking comments on a policy proposal for “Reducing Phosphorus to Minimize Algal Blooms in Lake Erie” until Nov. 20. It’s part of binational efforts to cut phosphorus loads to the lake by 40 percent by 2025.

Contribute: That’s a sampling of what’s out there. If you think we’ve missed anything that should be included now or in the future, comment below or send an email to kartj@washington.ijc.org.

Jeff Kart is executive editor of the IJC’s monthly Great Lakes Connection and quarterly Water Matters newsletters.

Lake Guardian Research Vessel Completes Summer Survey

By Kathryn Meyer and Todd Nettesheim, US Environmental Protection Agency

The R/V Lake Guardian helps US EPA and other partners monitor the health of the Great Lakes. Credit: Michael Milligan
The R/V Lake Guardian helps US EPA and other partners monitor the health of the Great Lakes. Credit: Michael Milligan

Out on the Great Lakes, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Lake Guardian research vessel is not your typical ship.

It has the usual pilot house, cabin rooms and galley, but this 180-foot research vessel has a few extra special features. Those include three onboard laboratories; a Rosette water sampler for measuring conductivity, temperature and depth; and multiple devices for sediment collection. These additions allow researchers to analyze water, sediment, and biological data while the Lake Guardian travels across the Great Lakes.

Also special is the collaborative group of scientists, from the US EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and other government agencies and universities, working onboard to collect and analyze samples to monitor the health of the Great Lakes. The overarching goal of the science performed onboard is to understand the chemical, physical, and biological changes in the lakes to help inform fishery and water quality managers.

Left: US EPA and University of Minnesota-Duluth scientists guide the Rosette sampler as it’s lowered into Lake Superior to collect water samples for chemical analysis. Credit: Courtney Winter, ORISE. Right: The Rosette is lowered off the starboard side of R/V Lake Guardian into Lake Superior to collect water samples at different depths for chemical and biological analyses. Credit: US EPA GLNPO
Left: US EPA and University of Minnesota-Duluth scientists guide the Rosette sampler as it’s lowered into Lake Superior to collect water samples for chemical analysis. Credit: Courtney Winter, ORISE. Right: The Rosette is lowered off the starboard side of R/V Lake Guardian into Lake Superior to collect water samples at different depths for chemical and biological analyses. Credit: US EPA GLNPO

The Lake Guardian is a floating laboratory essential to many Great Lakes long-term monitoring programs, with about 25 years of data collected since its first voyage on the lakes in 1991. Starting out on Lake Michigan, the ship samples the lakes twice a year as part of the routine spring and summer surveys. The ship weaves across each lake to reach specified sampling stations. Onboard, scientists and crew work around the clock to ensure that each station is sampled as the ship passes by Great Lakes icons including the Mackinac Bridge, Welland Canal, Soo Locks and Isle Royale.

Other parts of the Great Lakes are sampled by the EPA’s research vessel Mudpuppy II, a 33-foot shallow vessel designed for studies to determine the nature and extent of contaminated sediment in Great Lakes nearshore areas.

See also: ‘New Vessel Joins the Great Lakes Science Fleet, More on the Way

In August, EPA scientists from GLNPO collaborated with scientists from Buffalo State, Cornell University, University of Chicago, and University of Minnesota-Duluth to complete the Lake Guardian’s 2016 Summer Survey.

The survey consists of 97 stations where scientists collect water, phytoplankton, zooplankton, benthos (invertebrates that live on the bottom of the lakes), and sediment samples. Each station starts with the Rosette sampler plunging into the water to retrieve water samples at different depths on the starboard side, while on the aft deck plankton nets are cast into the water.

On some stations, a ponar sampler also is dropped to the bottom of the lake to scoop up sediment and collect benthos. Once the samples are back onboard, they are either immediately analyzed in one of the ship’s labs or preserved for analysis on land. The water samples help to track nutrient concentrations among other water chemistry parameters. The biological samples help us track changes and better understand the lower food web in the lakes.

The month of sample collection and analysis, knowledge-sharing and comradery onboard the Lake Guardian highlights the shared commitment to protect the health of the Great Lakes.

A scientist onboard R/V Lake Guardian rinses a zooplankton net to wash the catch into the collection bottle after a tow on the Lake Superior CSMI survey (Image Credit: U.S. EPA GLNPO).
A scientist onboard R/V Lake Guardian rinses a zooplankton net to wash the catch into the collection bottle after a tow on the Lake Superior CSMI survey. Credit: U.S. EPA GLNPO

For example, GLNPO began monitoring nutrient concentrations in Lake Erie in 1983 to assess the effectiveness of phosphorus load reduction programs initiated by the 1983 phosphorus load supplement to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). Data showed that the lake responded to the phosphorus load reductions and in-lake total phosphorus concentrations approached targets in the late 1980s. Our data also documented the re-eutrophication of Lake Erie that began in the early 1990s.

When the ship is not completing one of the long-term annual spring and summer surveys, the vessel supports additional monitoring efforts across the lakes. These include monitoring dissolved oxygen levels in Lake Erie and supporting collaborative science as part of the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) – a binational program established under the GLWQA. The US EPA and Environment and Climate Change Canada work with a broad array of partners to implement CSMI in fulfillment of GLWQA requirements.

This year, CSMI was focused in Lake Superior, where more than 200 water samples, 150 plankton nets, and 600 ponar grabs were performed across the lake to assess the long-term status of the lower food web. Each year, the Lake Guardian also serves as a floating classroom for educators throughout the Great Lakes thanks to programs run by the Center for Great Lakes Literacy.

Interested in learning more about the R/V Lake Guardian? Check out the EPA Great Lakes website. You can also check out information from one of our partners, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, and the Lake Guardian Twitter page to stay up-to-date and see if she’s coming to a port near you.

Kathryn Meyer is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Fellow on assignment to the US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago, Illinois.

Todd Nettesheim is an environmental engineer with the US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago, Illinois.

Editor’s Note: There are 78 science vessels active in the Great Lakes, each more than 25 feet long, and smaller boats which assist conservation officers, scientists, educators and resource managers (See this interactive map). Over the years, these operators have formed the Great Lakes Association of Science Ships (GLASS), with 68 American and Canadian participating organizations networking and providing information about these vessels at www.CanAmGlass.org.

Until Nov. 10: Give Your Thoughts on Recommendations for Fighting Great Lakes Microplastics

By IJC staff

Gordon Walker, chair of the IJC’s Canadian Section, recently waded into the issue of microplastics in the Great Lakes.

These plastics can enter the lakes via wastewater, manufacturing processes and runoff. They include microbeads in cosmetics and larger pollution like straws and bags that break down into smaller particles.

When microplastics enter the lakes they can be ingested by fish and potentially be passed on to us at dinnertime.

“Plastic doesn’t belong in the Great Lakes,” Walker said during an interview on “Little plastic nasties” with the Business News Network (BNN).

Gordon Walker on BNN microplastics microbeads
Gordon Walker on BNN

What do you think should be done? Here’s your chance to weigh in.

The IJC is taking public comment until Nov. 10 on “Preliminary Recommendations on Microplastics in the Great Lakes.”

The recommendations include a binational pollution prevention plan, monitoring and research, and education and outreach programs.

Take a look and let us know your thoughts.

Are the recommendations sound? Are any important considerations overlooked? Are there relevant examples from your community or business to consider?

You can hear more about the issue in a radio interview with Walker by Radio Canada International, and read more about microplastics in our four-part series. Don’t forget to come back and comment.