Air Over the Great Lakes Heavy With Pollutants

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, June 9, 2005 (ENS) - Canadian facilities in the Great Lakes basin emitted more than one billion kilograms of pollutants to the air in 2002 that are linked to smog, acid rain, respiratory illnesses and damage to child development, says a new report on pollution in the Great Lakes by Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

Released Wednesday on Canadian Clean Air Day, the report reveals that the Great Lakes basin experienced 45 percent of all toxic air pollution reported in Canada in 2002.

The report, "Great Lakes, Great Pollution: Canadian Pollutant Releases and Transfers to the Great Lakes," was issued on the eve of the joint Canadian/American biennial conference on the Great Lakes sponsored by the International Joint Commission that opened this morning at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

"Canadian regulators are asleep at the switch to control pollution in the Great Lakes," said Paul Muldoon, executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

"While Canadians think the problem has been dealt with, the data tells us something very different," he said. "These unacceptably high levels of pollution should be a key topic at the Great Lakes meeting in Kingston this week."


Air pollution hangs over Lake Ontario in this view from an airplane approaching Hamilton, Ontario where the Stelco steel factory is located. (Photo courtesy Marie Mushing)
The report is based on data submitted by industry to Environment Canada for its national reporting program - the National Pollutant Release Inventory.

It shows that pollution remains a problem nearly 30 years after Canadian and American governments signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, meant to ensure restoration and protection of Great Lakes water quality.

The air pollutant load in 2002 included three million kilograms of carcinogens and almost 2,000 kilograms of mercury, a neurotoxin that harms child development.

Lake Erie ranks as the basin with the largest amount of reported air pollution, followed by Lake Huron, the St. Lawrence River basin, Lake Ontario and Lake Superior.

The analysis was completed using the new Great Lakes search feature on, an interactive website that tracks pollution across Canada.

For the first time, the PollutionWatch web site lists the 10 facilities in the Great Lakes basin releasing the most pollutants to the air.

By far the facility releasing the most air pollutants is the Copper Cliff Inco smelter located in Sudbury, Ontario and affecting Lake Huron. The smelter operation processes sulfide ores to produce nickel, copper, cobalt, and precious metals.

The next most polluting facility is the Nanticoke Ontario Power Generating Station, which affects Lake Erie.

And the third most polluting facility is Noranda's Fonderie Horne, spreading air pollution across the St. Lawrence River Basin.

The next most polluting facilities, in order, are: Lambton Ontario Generating Station, Falconbridge Smelter Complex, Imperial Oil's Sarnia Refinery, Stelco, Sarnia Shell, and Imperial Oil's Nanticoke Refinery.

The Lakeview Ontario Generating Station was also on the list, but it was closed in April as part of Ontario's phaseout of coal fired electricity plants.

Under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1978, Canada and the United States agreed to eliminate toxic chemicals from the Great Lakes, but the study says pollution decreased by less than one percent over the five years from 1998 to 2002.

"With no real improvement in air releases over the past five years, there's not much to celebrate on Clean Air Day for people living in the Great Lakes area," said Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.


Ontario Power Generation operates the Lambton coal fired power plant at the southern tip of Lake Huron. It is equipped with sulphur dioxide scrubbers and two new selective catalytic reduction units to reduce mercury and nitrogen oxide emissions. (Photo courtesy OPG)
"We know air pollution is linked with more emergency room visits, more respiratory illnesses and more asthma attacks. And, we're now learning air pollution can be a factor in heart attacks and strokes," said Smith. "Our health depends on cleaner air."

The report's authors recommend the provincial and federal governments accelerate timelines to eliminate persistent, bioaccumulative toxics by 2010, and call for active targets for reducing pollution, with required timelines and accountability.

The government of Ontario has announced a five point plan to clean up the province's air, and on Wednesday Ontario Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky and George Smitherman, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, launched new initiatives at Toronto’s sixth annual Smog Summit.

Dombrowsky released an updated Smog Alert Response: A Municipal Guide to Action that offers smog-reducing initiatives, and a toolkit of sample plans municipalities can use to create or improve smog response strategies.

The Ontario government's air plan includes applying tough nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) limits to more industrial sectors than ever before, and making the NOx and SO2 limits even stricter in future years.

The province has announced plans to set tough new air standards, in some cases for the first time, for 29 harmful pollutants, including carcinogens and toxins that could pose a threat to human health.

The government says it will achieve a better picture of industrial emissions through updated technology, and take a faster, risk-based approach to implementing new air standards.

The 2005 Great Lakes Conference and Biennial Meeting is found online at: