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Great Lakes Groups Seek Tougher Action On Airborne Pollutants

March 3, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Environmental groups concerned with the Great Lakes called on the United States and Canada to provide tougher laws to curb the amount of airborne pollutants contributing to contamination of inland waters.

The Sierra Club and Great Lakes United, a coalition of environmental groups, issued a report stating that up to 25 percent of all pollutants in the Great Lakes come from the air, yet the atmosphere is the least regulated source of contaminants.

Neither the United States nor Canada has the laws in place to address toxic air pollution adequately, and the governments have failed to act aggressively with what authority they do have, the report said.

″Existing controls on air toxics are woefully inadequate,″ Jane Elder, the Sierra Club’s Midwest representative, said Monday. ″The time for complacency and empty agreements is past.″

The Great Lakes groups said both the United States and Canada need new laws to establish limits on toxic pollutants in the air and to impose tougher emission controls on industries that generate the contaminants.

Ms. Elder said airborne pollutants come from a variety of sources, including industrial plant emissions, aerial spraying of pesticides, automobile exhaust emissions, vaporization from waste treatment systems, evaporation from landfills, and incinerators.

The pollutants coming from the air, which work their way up the food chain and contaminate fish, include polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin, solvents, pesticides and heavy metals, the report said.

″The same toxics in those salmon and trout end up in human tissue, and that’s the big concern,″ Ms. Elder said.

Ms. Elder said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now limits emissions of just a few hazardous air pollutants, and policies vary from province to province within Canada.

″One of the very frightening things about air toxics is that we’re not even looking for what’s out there,″ Ms. Elder said. ″It’s very expensive to monitor throughout a system as large as the Great Lakes. EPA is only looking at a handful of substances, and we know there are hundreds falling out.″

The threat from airborne pollution is especially serious in the Great Lakes because of the huge surface areas exposed to the atmosphere and because long- lasting chemicals may remain in the system for decades since the lakes retain water for long periods, the report found.

For example, Lake Superior, which recieves an estimated 80 percent of its pollutants from the air, retains water for 191 years. In Lake Michigan, 50 percent of pollutants now are thought to come from the atmosphere, and water is retained for 99 years.