Input Sought on Great Lakes Mercury Strategy
Posted on: May 31, 2018
Great Lakes Binational Strategy for Mercury Risk Management
The cover of A new Great Lakes mercury strategy features a picture of 2012 mercury remediation work carried out at Peninsula Harbour at Marathon, Ontario on Lake Superior.

Comments and Input Sought

A draft Great Lakes strategy for dealing with mercury has been developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The document was recently released for public comment and is available here.

For those who would like to comment, email addresses for both Canada and USA are provided:

“Great Lakes Binational Strategy for Mercury Risk Management” Comment Link

A Quick Mercury “Backgrounder”

Virtually every lake in the Superior watershed, including Lake Superior itself, has consumption advisories for fish, mainly due to mercury. Additionally, every state and province around Lake Superior provides guidance about the amount of fish which should be consumed.  The Ontario guide to eating fish can be found here. Mercury is a naturally occurring element, not a chemical, but human activity has led to larger scale “releases.” For example mercury is a natural constituent in substances like coal. When coal is combusted in power plants, mercury is released as a by-product, falling out through atmospheric deposition onto the environment, including lakes and rivers.  Mercury subsequently works its way up the food chain, into fish, and potentially humans. Environmental and human health impacts of mercury have been very well documented over several decades and the US EPA provides an excellent overview on this topic:

Mercury Strategies

The draft “Great Lakes Binational Strategy for Mercury Risk Management” arranges strategies under the following groupings, or headings:

  • Regulations, Risk Mitigation and Management
  • Compliance Promotion and Enforcement
  • Pollution Prevention
  • Monitoring, Surveillance, and Other Research
  • Domestic Water Quality.

Over several years, both Canada and USA have put in place various efforts and regulations to deal with mercury. For example on April 7th, 2017, Canada ratified the Minimata Convention on Mercury, an international agreement to ensure mercury is managed responsibly and used in products only where no other alternative exists.  The draft “Great Lakes Binational Strategy for Mercury Risk Management” builds on this momentum, identifying specific actions, and naming the country associated with each action.

Specific Actions

Actions associated with both mercury management and research, as laid out in the document, include:

  • Identify manufacturing processes or products that intentionally add mercury (U.S.)
  • Continuing remediation of mercury-contaminated sites and sediments (Canada and US)
  • Continuing to reduce mercury emissions resulting from coal-fired generation of electricity (Canada)
  • Developing the National Strategy for Safe and Environmentally Sound Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury (Canada)
  • Conducting additional research on methylation dynamics and the differential impacts of mercury in nearshore versus offshore environments (US)
  • Continued monitoring of mercury in environmental media in the Great Lakes (air, precipitation, sediment, fish, and other wildlife) and also publishing results in a variety of publications to maximize the intended audience (Canada and US).

Data Gaps and Research

The document also cites the need for more information about mercury, laying out several “data gaps.” These include the influence of changing climate on mercury processes (mercury “cycles” through a number of forms in the environment); the need for better emissions data and improved methods to assist in determining the relationship between mercury emissions and concentrations of mercury in fish tissue;  and the effectiveness of the current regime of regulations in managing risks and impacts associated with mercury.

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