US Government bans toxics from Great Lakes

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that the move will remove up to 700,000 toxic pounds of chemicals annually, including a 90% reduction in mercury levels.

The EPA banned the discharge of the most toxic chemicals through ‘mixing zones’ on 3 November. This long-used practice consists of disposing of pollutants in cleaner receiving waters to dilute their concentration, and inside this zone, discharges of toxic chemicals have been allowed to exceed state water quality limits. Despite their great depth and size, the Great Lakes are particularly vulnerable to the build-up of toxic pollutants and the new rules are expected to significantly reduce levels of mercury, dioxin, PCB’s and pesticides in fish and wildlife. The EPA also committed itself to developing a national regulation for mixing zones in 2001, based on the action in the Great Lakes.

EPA estimates that, of the approximately 600 major industrial and municipal facilities with disposal permits in the Great Lake basin, about half discharge toxic bio-accumulative chemicals of concern into ‘mixing zones’. These zones will be phased out over a ten-year period in a cost-effective manner. For new discharges, ‘mixing zones’ will be prohibited immediately. The action follows a decision taken over a year ago to ban toxics in ‘mixing zones’ (see related story).

The rule authorises limited exceptions for existing dischargers who prove that they have already reduced their discharge of toxic bio-accumulative chemicals as much as possible, and that further requirements are not technically feasible or cost effective. Dischargers must continue to meet water quality standards while covered by an exception, and must prove that they continue to be eligible for the exception every 5 years.

Three of the Great Lakes States-New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania-will have 18 months to adopt the rule. The other five Great Lakes states-Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin-already prohibit mixing zones in the Great Lakes.

“The Great Lakes rank among the world’s most important natural treasures,” said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. “Today’s action will dramatically reduce the toxic chemicals that threaten those waters. It will protect the health of millions of American families, it will guard the purity of their drinking water, and it will help make safer the fish they eat.”

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