From: Associated Press
Published September 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Resistant Bacteria and Mercury Threaten the Great Lakes and Human Health, Report Says

WINDSOR, Ontario — Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, airborne mercury, and urban sprawl are threatening the health of the Great Lakes and millions of people who live around them, a report to the Canadian and U.S. governments concluded this week.


While there has been a general improvement in water quality over the past 30 years, the International Joint Commission report warns new and emerging threats require urgent attention.


Dennis Schornack, American co-chairman of the commission, said the frequent use of antibiotics in livestock and humans is causing one problem. Bacteria can develop immunity to the drugs, then end up in drinking water and cause illness, he said.


"We've got to become better at monitoring pathogens in the water and examine whether the wastewater treatment plants that we have in place are successfully killing the organisms," Schornack said.


Herb Gray, the commission's Canadian co-chairman, said the best way to tackle the problem is to curb the use of antibiotics.


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The report, issued every two years, recommends better management of watersheds to mitigate the impact of agriculture, development, industry, and urbanization — a daunting task.


"Governments must focus increased attention on protecting the sources of drinking water supplies," the report said.


Gray said many problems remain to be tackled. "(They) are large-scale. They'll require large amounts of money over an extended period of time," he said.


Another threat identified in the report is airborne methyl-mercury, which ends up in the water. Most comes from regional coal-fired power generators, but some comes from as far as China.


Other chemicals, such as fire retardants commonly used for furniture, are posing new threats.


Another area of concern” are the alien species brought in by the ballast water of foreign ships. About one new invasive species takes hold every eight months. While there has been some success in controlling their proliferation, none has ever been eradicated.


Still, Schornack said he believes overall water quality in the lakes has improved in recent decades. As an example, he noted Lake Erie is now far healthier than it was 30 years ago. However, the emergence of unexplained dead zones in the lake has raised new worries.


Release of the report also coincides with the first major overhaul in 17 years of the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes water quality agreement, initially signed in 1978.


"It's a tremendous opportunity the two countries have to protect this ecosystem," Schornack said.


Source: Associated Press


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