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Emerging Chemical Surveillance Program

Contact Information

For further information on the Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program, please contact:

Elizabeth Murphy (murphy.elizabeth@epa.gov)
Environmental Scientist
EPA Great Lakes National Program Office
(312) 353-4227 or 1-800-621-8431 x34227

Access the Data

Data produced by the GLFMSP can be obtained through the Great Lakes Environmental Database Query System or through the University of Illinois Extension website Exit EPA Disclaimer

You can also contact the program manager, Elizabeth Murphy, for information regarding the GLFMSP and/or supporting data.

Peer reviewed journal articles published using GLFMSP data can also be found on the Reports & Links page.

Much of the current, basin wide, persistent toxic substance data that is reported focuses on legacy chemicals whose use has been previously restricted or banned through various forms of legislation but that continue to be the source of the highest levels of contaminants detected in fish, eg. PCBs. However, both the U.S. and Canadian programs are making efforts to incorporate the monitoring and surveillance of emerging chemicals into their routine work. Chemicals of interest are identified through scientific studies (e.g., Howard & Muir 2010), and general screening of annual samples and also though risk assessments by regulatory bodies. As chemicals are identified through this process, they will be reported out through various media, particularly those chemicals with established criteria. Environmental Specimen Banks containing tissue samples are a key component of both the U.S. and Canadian monitoring programs, allowing for retrospective analyses of newly identified chemicals of concern to develop long-term trends in the short-term.

Fostering collaboration between U.S. and Canadian monitoring programs for various media will be beneficial, especially in times of fiscal restraint. In 2009, an ad-hoc binational group was formed to bring together government representatives and researchers working on identifying new chemicals in the Great Lakes ecosystem with the objective to facilitate best management practices and sharing of information and resources. The group provides a forum for agencies and researchers to seek and provide information on emerging contaminant surveillance, monitoring, chemical methods development, and provides a place to collaborate on similar chemicals, or classes of chemicals, in different media. Collaboration among research in differing media also provides an excellent opportunity for cost sharing, an accelerated rate of discovery, and a validation of results among the Great Lakes research and monitoring community.

Perfluorinated acids

Temporal trends of PFOS concentrations (geometric mean 95% confidence interval) in Lake Ontario Lake Trout measured by Environment Canada (De Silva, unpublished data) and Ontario Ministry of the Environment (Furdui et al. 2008). (McGoldrick, D., Clark, M., and Murphy, E. 2012. "Contaminants in Whole Fish", In: U.S. EPA and Environment Canada. 2012. State of the Great Lakes 2012.) (Click to enlarge)

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is a synthetic substance belonging to a larger class of organic fluorochemicals that are either partially or completely saturated with fluorine. PFOS, perfluorocarboxylates and their precursors are used primarily in water, oil, soil, and grease repellents for paper and packaging, carpets, and fabrics, as well as in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) for fighting fuel fires. PFOS was voluntarily phased-out of production by their primary supplier in 2002. However, PFOS use in Canada and the US continues due to specific use exemptions. Routine monitoring of PFOS in whole Lake Trout from the Great Lakes combined with retrospective analyses of archived samples from Environment Canada's National Aquatic Biological Specimen Bank have provided information on PFOS contamination in Lake Ontario Great Lakes fish from 1979 to 2008. Concentrations of PFOS in Lake Trout rose continuously at a rate of 5.9%/year through to the late 1980s/early 1990s, after which no consistent change in time was observed. This contradicts trends observed in ringed seals in the Canadian Arctic, where significant PFOS declines were observed within the year following voluntary phase-outs (Butt et al. 2007). This contradiction may be due to continued inputs into Lake Ontario. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is another common fluorochemical and major manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to a 99% phase-out by 2015. However, PFOA is not highly bioaccumulative and time trends were not reliably measured in fish. Conversely, the concentration of two other fluorochemicals, perfluorodecane sulfonate (PFDS) and Perfluorooctane sulfonamide (PFOSA), have declined consistently in Lake Trout from Lake Ontario since 1992 at rates of 4.4% and 6.2% per year, respectively.

Synthetic Musks

Average synthetic musk concentrations (ng/g ww) in whole body Lake Trout and Walleye (U.S. EPA; Lake Erie) in each of the Great Lakes measured in 2009.

Average synthetic musk concentrations (ng/g ww) in whole body Lake Trout and Walleye (U.S. EPA; Lake Erie) in each of the Great Lakes measured in 2009. (Source of Data: GLFMSP, Generated by: Dr. Michael Milligan Exit EPA Disclaimer) (Click to enlarge)

The GLFMSP has begun screening for synthetic musks in fish tissue. These compounds are typically used in perfumes, colognes, shampoos, detergents, disinfectants and enter water through wastewater discharge and atmospheric deposition. The classes of synthetic musks that are of interest include: nitro-musks, polycylic musks, macrocyclic musks, alicyclic musks. To date, analytical results have indicated that two synthetic musks in particular, galoxolide and tonalide, are the most abundant musks found in GLFMSP samples. Concentrations of musks are highest in Lake Ontario followed by Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Erie. There is currently insufficient data to fully explain the spatial pattern in the Lakes; however, this could be evidence of significant atmospheric transport of musks. Detection of these chemicals is extremely difficult due to their presence in numerous products, including laundry detergent, soaps, shampoos, deodorants, body sprays, cleaning supplies, etc. Experimental techniques, such as fragarance-free rooms for analysis may be employed for future analyses.

Referenced Publications

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