Great Lakes Not so Great Due to Pollution

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For Immediate Release: Sep 05, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Great Lakes Not so Great Due to Pollution

Virtually All Waters Classified “Impaired” by PCBs, Dioxin, Mercury, and Pesticides

Washington, DC — The latest eco-report card for the Great Lakes is downright dreadful, according to federal figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Almost all the Great Lakes shoreline and ocean waters are incapable of meeting designated uses because of high levels of PCBs, dioxin, mercury, and pesticides fouling both the waters and their aquatic life.

The Great Lakes are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total area, containing more than one-fifth of the world’s surface fresh water by volume. They are also the source for drinking water to some 40 million people in surrounding areas.

The latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ratings indicate that–

  • Out of 4,460 miles of Great Lakes shoreline waters assessed, nearly 98% are impaired;
  • Virtually all Great Lakes open waters that have been assessed are also impaired, covering nearly 40,000 square miles, an area about the size of Kentucky; and
  • Atmospheric deposition, rather than surface discharges, is the overwhelming source of pollutants.

EPA’s ratings are based on assessments by bordering states. Overall, nearly 86% of all the Great Lakes shoreline waters have been assessed while only 20% of their open waters have been assessed.

EPA found the principal Great Lakes contaminants to be PCBs, dioxin, mercury, and pesticides. Most of the contamination results from atmospheric deposition. The largest impairment impacts are restrictions on fish and shellfish harvesting.

“States alone cannot protect the Great Lakes from the current sources of pollution,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “We need both a national and an international approach to safeguard this major global eco-asset.”

The Trump administration has twice targeted the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the main federal investment in their water quality. First, the Trump White House zeroed it out in its FY2018 budget plan; and then asked for a 90% reduction in FY 2019. In both years, Congress has rejected these proposed cuts.

“Under Trump, EPA has gone from a leader in promoting the health of the Great Lakes to an uninterested bystander,” added PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “No one can ‘Make America Great Again’ by ignoring the Great Lakes.”


Examine EPA estimates on the eco-health of the Great Lakes

See the EPA impairment figures on coastal waters, bays, and estuaries

Look at growing impairments of our rivers, lakes, and reservoirs

Revisit EPA effort to dramatically cut the scope of the Clean Water Act

Phone: 202-265-7337

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Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

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