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Great Lakes Strategy 2002

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Great Lakes Strategy 2002
A Plan for the New Millennium

A Strategic Plan for the Great Lakes Ecosystem

Chemical Integrity: Reducing and Eliminating the Threat of Toxic Pollution and Excess Nutrients

Goal: To reduce toxic substances in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem -- with an emphasis on persistent toxic substances -- so that all organisms are adequately protected. Over time, these substances will be virtually eliminated. Maintain an appropriate nutrient balance in the Great Lakes to ensure aquatic ecosystem health.

Due in part to the long retention time of water in the system (up to 190 years in Lake Superior), the Great Lakes are adversely impacted by toxic substances. Substances which are persistent and bioaccumulate are the greatest threat. The presence of toxic substances at certain concentrations can negatively impact human health. For example, there are currently numerous fish advisories in the Great Lakes which indicate that toxic substances are still accumulating in the food chain at unacceptable levels. In addition, new research is identifying potential emerging problems with respect to toxic substances. The possible endocrine disrupting nature of some chemicals could be the cause of human health effects of serious concern.

The sources of pollution include air deposition, industrial and municipal dischargers, previously contaminated sediments, runoff from farms and urban areas, and contributions of pollution from waste sites. Much progress has been made to decrease the threat of toxic substances in the Great Lakes Basin. Levels of most toxic substances have significantly decreased over the time. However, chemical inputs to the Great Lakes still continue, causing unacceptable concentrations of these chemicals in water and fish tissue. Many of these toxic inputs are the result of air deposition and may come from other areas of the continent, or from global long-range transport. Achieving further reductions, leading to the virtual elimination of PBTs, is still a major priority.

The Great Lakes Region has long been a site for innovative regulatory efforts to protect human health and the health of the environment. Efforts such as the phase-out of mixing zones (the use of dilution to reduce concentrations in discharges) for PBTs are now in place and may serve as models for the rest of the Nation, where appropriate.

Implementing the Great Lakes Initiative

A number of regulatory programs provide a foundation for the clean up and protection of the Great Lakes. An important tool was developed through the Great Lakes Water Quality Initiative (GLI). USEPA and the States developed the Great Lakes Water Quality Guidance (the Guidance) that includes water quality standards and implementation procedures for the Great Lakes system. It consists of water quality criteria to protect aquatic life, human health, and wildlife, and contains antidegradation policies and implementation procedures specific to the Great Lakes. Equally important, it provides methods for deriving water quality criteria that can reflect bioaccumulation and chemical additivity, providing States and Tribes with a tool to address a universe of pollutants that might affect the Great Lakes. In addition, the Guidance provides a method for States to implement their narrative water quality criteria ("no toxics in toxic amounts"), even when there are not enough data to support a numeric water quality criterion. This program is expected to reduce direct toxic water discharges by six to eight million pounds per year.

Water quality standards and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit implementation rules consistent with the Guidance are now in place in all Great Lakes States. The States are currently issuing permits based on those standards. The Great Lakes States' work in this area has been exemplary and has positioned the Great Lakes to be a world class leader with regard to advancing water quality regulatory protection.

Key Objectives:

By 2006, 100% of all NPDES permitted discharges to the Lakes or major tributaries will have permit limits that reflect the Guidance's water quality standards, where applicable.

Key Actions:

USEPA will work with the States and eligible Tribes as they are beginning to incorporate the Guidance into their regulatory programs in order to help States and eligible Tribes identify and correct problems. USEPA will provide technical assistance, permit writing training, and other training courses.

Establishing Total Maximum Daily Loads

Under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, States have listed, with Federal approval, portions of the Great Lakes and their tributaries as "impaired waters.” These waters do not meet the approved State water quality standards even after permits or other pollution control requirements have been issued. The Clean Water Act requires that States and authorized Tribes address these impaired waters by developing a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) determination which specifies the maximum amount of a specific pollutant that a waterbody can receive from multiple pathways, including stormwater runoff and air deposition, and still meet water quality standards (including the GLI, where applicable).

Recent State actions have established priority rankings for impaired waters, including the Great Lakes, and have scheduled TMDL development for these waters. The TMDL effort for each of the Great Lakes will be described in the TMDL Great Lakes Strategy, which will be discussed in the next LaMP update and closely linked to lakewide management planning. The development and use of innovative approaches will also be considered in order to expedite the improvement of water quality and removal of impairments.

Key Objectives:

By 2013, complete TMDLs for each Great Lake and Great Lake tributary listed on each state's 1998 303(d) list. Complete TMDLs for all waterbodies subsequently added to future 303(d) lists no later than 15 years after their first appearance on the list.

Key Actions:

By 2002, include an update on the status of the Great Lakes TMDL Strategy in each of the LaMP updates.

By 2004, USEPA, with assistance from States, will complete the Great Lakes TMDL Strategy, which will include EPA, States, and Tribal roles and responsibilities for completing TMDLs for the Great Lakes and their tributaries.

Continue to explore innovative or alternative approaches for developing TMDLs to address impaired waters and for implementing programs to restore these waters.

USEPA will assist the States and Tribes in their development of TMDLs for waterbodies tributary to the Great Lakes by providing training, resources, guidance, and technical support as needed.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will provide technical assistance to States, Tribes, and local agencies in developing TMDLs, including data and information on Great Lakes tributaries, by undertaking in-depth studies with State and local agencies through the Cooperative Water-Resources Investigations Program.

Achieving the Challenge of the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy

On April 7, 1997 the governments of Canada and the U.S. adopted the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy (GLBTS) for the virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances in the Great Lakes, setting a precedent for cooperation between the two countries in the area of toxic reductions. For the first time, the U.S. and Canada acted together to establish specific, quantitative reduction targets for chemical substances. The GLBTS uses pollution prevention as the principal tool in achieving results.

Level I substances in the GLBTS include PCBs, mercury, dioxins and furans, five bioaccumulative pesticides (chlordane, aldrin/dieldrin, DDT, mirex, and toxaphene), octachlorostyrene, alkyl-lead, hexachlorobenzene, and benzo(a)pyrene. The GLBTS establishes reduction targets for the Level I Substances, and progress in meeting these targets is tracked. Management of Level II Substances, undertaken through pollution prevention activities and in compliance with the laws and policies of each country, will be at the discretion of the various stakeholders of the GLBTS.

The GLBTS implementation emphasizes voluntary approaches and is carried out in a flexible, participatory, and action-oriented manner. Progress on GLBTS implementation is ongoing. During the first three years of implementation, under a mercury reduction challenge, the chlorine industrial sector reduced consumption of mercury by 42% (on a production adjusted basis). A number of key partnerships have also been initiated with the health care sector and the iron and steel sector to explore other toxics reduction and pollution prevention opportunities.

Key Objectives:

By 2006, achieve all challenge goals of the GLBTS, making measurable and reportable progress, particularly:

Key Actions:

By 2006, create ten additional voluntary partnerships with sources that use or release persistent toxic substances.

Continue to initiate pesticide Clean Sweep programs in the Basin to promote the safe disposal and elimination of toxic substances.

By 2003, investigate the contribution of backyard refuse burning to total releases of dioxins and furans and if appropriate, initiate state and local programs to provide affordable local alternatives to backyard refuse burning.

By 2007, evaluate the implementation of the GLBTS and develop a process to renew commitments and challenges. 

Addressing Impacts from Air Deposition

Great Lakes researchers have collected a convincing amount of data demonstrating that toxic pollutants emitted into the atmosphere are being deposited directly into the Great Lakes, or deposited into inland ecosystems with subsequent transport to the Great Lakes by tributary flows and other processes. Furthermore, toxic air pollutants may be transported short or long distances from their original sources, and some chemicals are transported atmospherically on a global scale. The Lake Michigan Mass Balance Study (LMMB), which focuses on four chemicals that are representative of classes of pollutants in the Great Lakes (PCBs, trans-nonachlor, atrazine, and mercury), estimates that 1600 pounds of mercury and 3400 pounds of PCBs are deposited into Lake Michigan every year. Fish consumption advisories remain in effect in the Great Lakes for mercury, PCBs, and other pollutants, and atmospheric deposition is known to be a major contributor of these substances.

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), USEPA has been working to reduce emissions of toxic pollutants through regulatory and non-regulatory methods. Under the Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) program, USEPA is using a performance-based approach to controlling toxic air pollutants. Since 1993, MACT standards have been developed by USEPA for over 80 source categories, with additional source categories still under development.

[Regulations for large municipal waste combustors that have recently been fully implemented and regulations for medical waste and small municipal waste incinerators that will be implemented in 2002 and 2005, respectively, will greatly reduce mercury and dioxin emissions from these sources.]

State agencies and USEPA have also developed voluntary partnerships and agreements with facilities to reduce their toxics use, including steel mills, hospitals, schools, automobile manufacturers, dairy farms and dental offices.

In response to the mounting evidence of air deposition pollution to water bodies, Congress included the Great Waters program (section 112(m)) in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. This program requires USEPA, in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to investigate the air deposition of toxic air pollutants to the Great Lakes and other water bodies by establishing sampling networks, investigating sources, assessing the contribution of air deposition to water quality violations, and determining if the current Clean Air Act provisions are sufficient to prevent serious adverse effects to public health and the environment.

Since 1990, the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network (IADN) has monitored deposition rates of priority air toxic pollutants to the Great Lakes. In addition, the eight Great Lakes States, the Province of Ontario, and the Great Lakes Commission have developed the Great Lakes Regional Air Toxics Emissions Inventory and Regional Air Pollutant Inventory Development System (RAPIDS) to create the best available toxics emission estimates from all sources (point, area, and mobile) for regional modeling efforts.

Working together, USEPA, NOAA, States, and Tribes will continue to support efforts to monitor, characterize, model, and quantify emissions sources of toxics in the Great Lakes Region. We will work to reduce international emissions and support models that define the relationship between air pollutant sources and the effects of pollutants deposited on the Great Lakes. This information will guide regulatory and non-regulatory programs that work to eliminate the impacts of air toxic deposition and the risks of air toxics to both humans and the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

Key Objectives:

Through the implementation of MACT standards promulgated in September 1997, achieve at least a 90% reduction in mercury and dioxin emissions from 1996 baselines from medical waste incinerators.

Key Actions:

Implement the Clean Air Act provisions, including MACT standards, and commit to strong enforcement of these standards by USEPA and State Agencies.

USEPA is committed to reducing emissions of mercury from coal-fired utilities through a nationwide cap and trade program. This program has been announced by the President and is currently under consideration by Congress.

Adopt and implement emissions standards covering source categories accounting for 90% of the emissions of 30 identified urban air toxic pollutants.

Establish national measures which enable State, Tribal, and local agencies to develop strong and flexible programs to reduce air toxics.

Conduct periodic asessments of air quality, exposure and estimated risks from toxics for urban areas in the Great Lakes Region and provide information to the public.

The State of Wisconsin will propose regulations to reduce atmospheric mercury emissions from major electric utilities by 90% within 15 years after promulgation.

Consistent with its statutory goal, Minnesota will reduce statewide mercury releases to air by at least 70% by 2005, compared to 1990 levels.

Support the expansion of state and tribal monitoring efforts related to air toxic deposition, particularly for PBTs which support legislation and policy efforts. Support the efforts of Tribes in the Great Lakes Basin in the development of Tribal Implementation Plans (TIPs) to address adverse environmental impacts resulting from air deposition.

Integrate IADN with new regional, national, and international monitoring efforts and report on the deposition of PBTs. Add mercury deposition monitoring to at least one U.S. IADN station and evaluate the feasibility and cost of adding additional chemicals of concern to the network, as appropriate. Evaluate the expansion of the IADN network to include new urban sites in order to determine urban sources and evaluate current and future regulations.

Expand and improve the Great Lakes Regional Air Toxics Emissions Inventory and RAPIDS to support analyses of emission trends. Make special efforts to focus on PBTs of concern to the Great Lakes including an in-depth quality assurance effort.

Study the relationship between the Great Lakes Regional Air Toxics Emissions Inventory and atmospheric deposition monitoring data. Work to better understand source/receptor relationships and improve inventory and modeling techniques to better characterize emissions and forecast deposition, and support future efforts to resolve these issues.

Promote the Urban Air Toxics Strategy on the Federal, State, and Tribal level. Commit to further defining air toxics risks to the Great Lakes Basin's residents and ecosystems by conducting multi-pathway risk studies and community assessments. Assure that the residual risk (112(f)) program addresses atmospheric deposition concerns of PBTs, including evaluation of emissions, impacts, and multiple exposure pathways.

Achieving Out-Of-Basin Toxics Reductions

A major challenge for the Great Lakes is to address persistent toxic pollutants on a national, international, and global scale. These pollutants easily transfer among air, land and water and travel across vast geographic boundaries. Recognizing the need to achieve out-of-basin toxics reductions, the GLBTS is closely coordinated with other domestic and international programs. The national multi-media PBT Program is focused on reductions for the same set of pollutants, and the efforts of the GLBTS chemical-specific workgroups have supported the development of the PBT Program national action plans. The GLBTS also is coordinated with USEPA's Office of International Affairs to support international efforts, such as the Persistent Organic Pollutants and Heavy Metals Protocols under the United Nations' Economic Commission for Europe's Convention (UNECE) on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) Sound Management of Chemicals Program. Under the latter program, North American Regional Action Plans (NARAPs) have been developed for a number of chemicals. These efforts work toward international voluntary activities and legally-binding agreements resulting in reductions of persistent toxic substances.

Key Actions:

Continue to support and coordinate with national initiatives that will reduce or eliminate out-of-basin inputs of toxics to the Great Lakes, including the PBT Program.

Work within international forums to reduce air toxics from sources outside the Great Lakes Basin. Actively participate in international efforts which focus on air toxic reductions such as the 1998 Persistent Organic Pollutants Protocol of the UNECE LRTAP Convention and the CEC Sound Management of Chemicals Program. Support actions in the CEC's NARAP for mercury.

Cleaning Up Past Contamination: Sediments

Due to the highly industrialized nature of many harbors and tributaries on the Great Lakes, these areas have historically received inputs of chemical pollutants which have concentrated in the bottom sediments. Although discharges of persistent toxic substances to the Great Lakes have been reduced in the last three decades, high concentrations of contaminants remaining in the bottom sediments of many rivers and harbors have raised considerable concern about risks to aquatic organisms, wildlife and humans. Exposure to contaminated sediment may impact aquatic life through the development of cancerous tumors, loss of suitable habitat, and toxicity to fish and benthic organisms. Exposure also impacts wildlife and human health by the bioaccumulation of toxic substances through the food chain. Contaminated sediments are one of the major causes of fish consumption advisories that are in place at many locations around the Great Lakes. There are economic consequences to contaminated sediments as well. They can prevent or delay the dredging in navigational channels and recreational ports, require additional costs for removal and management, and impose other costs to waterborne commerce and local recreational economies.

Annexes 14 (Contaminated Sediments) and 2 (Remedial Action Plans) of the GLWQA focus on specific activities that should be undertaken to address Beneficial Use Impairments related to contaminated sediments. In addition, the GLBTS calls for action to address PBTs present in Great Lakes sediment. The Great Lakes agencies have completed or are currently addressing the remediation of over three million cubic yards of contaminated sediments in the Basin, at an estimated cost of over two hundred million dollars. These actions are principally within the AOCs. Unfortunately, this work represents only a fraction of the total effort necessary to fully remediate contaminated sediments in the Great Lakes. Progress in cleaning up contaminated sediments and restoring the associated beneficial uses has been slow since the GLWQA was signed, and only one of the 43 AOCs has been delisted to date (Collingwood Harbour, Ontario, Canada).

The International Joint Commission's Water Quality Board prepared a document in 1997 entitled, "Overcoming Obstacles to Sediment Remediation in the Great Lakes Basin". The IJC report summarized major obstacles to sediment remediation, and grouped them into the following six categories: limited funding and resources; regulatory complexity; lack of a decision-making framework; limited corporate involvement; insufficient research and technology development; and limited public and local support. Successfully addressing the contaminated sediment problem will necessitate overcoming these obstacles.

In recent years, Congress has enacted legislation giving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) authority to support States, local governments, and Tribes responsible for addressing contaminated sediment problems, including: 1) technical support for Remedial Action Planning, 2) removal and remediation of contaminated sediments from areas outside Federal navigation channels, and 3) development and demonstration of promising remediation technologies.

Federal, State, and Tribal regulatory and trustee agencies will continue to address contaminated sediments through their respective enforcement authorities and also through innovative approaches and Federal/State/private partnerships. These agencies will coordinate complementary Federal and State authorities, to leverage government and private resources to address the contaminated sediment problem and its sources.

Including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Clean Water Act (CWA), Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the Oil Pollution Act (OPA).

Key Objectives:

Accelerate the pace of contaminated sediment remediation, working to overcome barriers to progress identified at each site. Bring together complementary Federal and State authorities, and/or government and private resources to address the contaminated sediment problem and its source, so that:

Complete the clean up of all known sites in the Basin by 2025.

Key Actions:

Restore the beneficial uses impaired by sediment contamination in AOCs, as a critical step toward their delisting. Monitor before, during, and after sediment remediation to assess and document remedy effectiveness.

Beginning in 2002, track and report on an annual basis the number of sediment remediation project starts and completions in the Great Lakes.

By 2004, each State member of the U.S. Policy Committee, working with USEPA, USACE, NOAA, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), will develop an integrated list of sites for remedial and restoration activities, with estimated costs and schedules. These lists will be updated biennially. USEPA will maintain this comprehensive list of known contaminated sediment sites in the Great Lakes, including, but not limited to AOCs, that will help to inform the Great Lakes community on the location and magnitude of remaining sediment contamination that could require remedial and restoration actions.

Develop and implement a collaborative outreach strategy to promote greater public awareness of contaminated sediments issues and enhance public involvement in the remedial decision-making process early and often.

Engage in a dialogue with regional industrial and manufacturing groups to promote greater corporate participation in contaminated sediment remediation.

Promoting the Safe Consumption of Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife

Many North Americans enjoy fishing and hunting in the Great Lakes Basin, and many residents earn their livelihood from these activities. Unfortunately, a variety of persistent toxic substances circulate within the Great Lakes environment and bioaccumulate in animal tissues. Several studies of Great Lakes fish consumers have shown that long-term exposures can cause chronic health effects and pose a special risk to fetuses, children, women of child-bearing age, and those who extensively fish for food. Contaminant levels and resulting exposures due to wildlife consumption have received less intensive study.

The use of consumption advisories is an interim measure to reduce exposure by promoting the safe consumption of fish and wildlife. All the Great Lakes and their connecting channels are currently under a fish advisory, mainly due to PCBs, although dioxin and chlordane also cause advisories. In addition, several States have state-wide mercury advisories for their inland waters. Unfortunately, surveys have revealed that a large portion of the subsistence and sport fish consuming public is unaware of these advisories.

Based on our current understanding of how these chemicals circulate in the environment, it is expected that advisories will be in place for several decades. However, cleaning up contaminated sediments and reducing new loadings of toxic substances would significantly shorten this time frame. There is also a concern that invasive species can potentially redistribute pollutants in the food web. The long-term goal is to ensure that all Great Lakes fish and wildlife are safe to eat without restriction.

Key Objectives:

Implement actions identified throughout this Strategy, particularly in the Contaminated Sediments and Air Deposition sections, to reduce exposure to toxic substances from the consumption of contaminated fish and wildlife. As an indicator of progress toward the reduction of toxic substances in native, top-level predators, concentrations of PCBs in whole lake trout and walleye samples will decline by 25% in the period from 2000 to 2007.

Key Actions:

ATSDR, State health and environmental agencies, Tribes, and USEPA will continue to improve their understanding of exposure and health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated fish and wildlife. Enhanced communications will be provided to the public, including at-risk populations, about the importance of following existing fish and wildlife advisories.

USEPA will report every two years on concentrations of key pollutants (PCBs, chlordane, and mercury) in coho and chinook fillets, as well as whole lake trout and walleye. Consideration will be given to monitoring and reporting of other chemicals of potential health concern, such as chlorinated napthalenes, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and toxaphene, as part of a long term trend monitoring program.

Evaluate the result of surveys sponsored by ATSDR, States, USEPA, Tribes, and academic institutions on the effectiveness of fish advisories and develop improved systems for communicating information to high-risk communities, including non-English speaking minorities and sensitive populations.

ATSDR, USEPA, State and Tribal health agencies will pursue further research in the area of mercury exposure from fish and wildlife consumption.

Federal, State, and Tribes will support the work of the LaMPs and any Great Lakes human health committees by providing information on contaminants and fish and wildlife consumption advisories.

Federal, State, and Tribes will provide data from their fish tissue sampling programs to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission for inclusion in the Commission's State of the Lake reports, which are issued on a rotating basis for each Lake every five years.

States, USEPA, and Tribes will explore contaminant levels and exposures from the consumption of wildlife and native foods.

Maintaining A Healthy Nutrient Balance

Phosphorus is an essential element for all organisms and is often the limiting factor for aquatic plant growth in the Great Lakes. Although phosphorus is found naturally in tributaries and run-off waters, the historical problems caused by elevated levels have predominately originated from human-made sources. Sewage treatment plant effluent, agricultural run-off, and industrial processes have released large amounts of phosphorus into the Lakes.

Strong efforts that began in the 1970s to reduce phosphorus loadings have been successful in also reducing nutrient concentrations in the Lakes, although high concentrations still occur locally in some bays and harbors. Phosphorus loads have decreased in part due to changes in agricultural practices (e.g., conservation tillage and integrated crop management), use of non-phosphorus detergents, and improvements made to sewage treatment plants and sewer systems.

Our overall approach is to ensure that Great Lakes waters shall be free from nutrients, directly or indirectly entering the waters as a result of human activity, in amounts that create growths of aquatic life that interfere with beneficial uses.

Key Actions:

Continue to monitor phosphorus concentrations closely to ensure nutrient levels can support desired fish community structures and populations.

Continue to support the implementation of rural and urban nutrient management practices under Section 319 of the CWA and Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) .

Construct and test models of nutrient cycling in each of the Great Lakes to account for the role now played by zebra mussels.

Assess the capacity and operation of existing sewage treatment plants in the context of increasing human populations being served to determine if additional upgrades in construction or operations may be required.

In cooperation with participating State, Tribal, and federal agencies, USGS will continue to collect streamflow data, and, in selected areas, water-quality and ancillary data to support the calculation of annual tributary loadings to the Lakes.


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