Great Lakes pollution: What is the Sarnia Blob?
Bacteria-laden beaches, lakes choked with algae and fish contaminated by industrial waste: these have been symptoms of pollution in the Great Lakes since the late 1950s. With growing threats to drinking water, wildlife populations and human health, governments on both sides of the border took action to reverse the Lakes' decline in the 1970s. Today they supply water to one-third of all Canadians and one-seventh of all Americans. Under the watchful eyes of scientists and environmentalists, the Lakes are slowly becoming great again.
One of the chemical companies reported a spill of perchlorethylene, a dry-cleaning solvent, in August 1985, and there's evidence it's part of the blob. But some geologists believe the blob is also composed of chemical waste oozing upwards from underground wells.
. Because perc is heavier than water, it settled in a great mass at the bottom of the river. Steve Bolt, an environmental control manager at Dow, told Maclean's the perc "'just did its job' picking up other chemical contaminants in the river sediments."
. The resulting "blob" a name given it by the news media consisted of 18 chemicals including deadly dioxin. It was discovered Sept. 27, 1985, and cleanup began almost two months later.
. It took Dow about a month to vacuum up the blob and cost about $1 million a considerable increase over the original estimate of $100,000.
. The recovered material was placed in a protective pond at Dow and some of the chemicals were recycled.
. Though nearby residents were concerned chemicals would be agitated during the cleanup, they were reassured that their water was "probably the most thoroughly scrutinized of any water supply in North America."
. In December 1985 Maclean's reported that the spill was "only one of 11 accidental discharges of liquid or gas at Dow Chemical this year."
. There were also 275 such spills near Sarnia in the ten years from 1975 to 1985.
. In 1985 the "Chemical Valley" near Sarnia, Ont. consisted of 13 factories producing petrochemicals, glass and plastics.
. According to the Globe and Mail, as of 2004 the area produces about 40 per cent of the country's petrochemicals and is home to about 20 per cent of its refineries. Sarnia, a city with a population of about 70,000, is also the site of Ontario's only commercial hazardous-waste facility.
. The town of Wallaceburg, Ont., discussed in this clip, continues to experience threats to its water supply. In February 2004 residents were angered by the second chemical spill into the St. Clair River in six months. Water intake pipes on the river were shut down and the community relied on reserved water and supplies from nearby communities for two days before the water was declared safe.
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: Nov. 10, 1985
Guest(s): Jim Bradley, Joseph Cummins, Hank Don, Ken Hill, Mike Sklash, Doug Steen, Alla Steen
Host: Susan Reisler, Christopher Thomas
Reporter: Alannah Campbell
Last updated: February 14, 2012
Page consulted on January 23, 2014
All Clips from this Topic
Toronto's western beaches are closed due to pollution flowing into Lak...
Water experts condemn the effects of municipal, chemical and industria...
An environmental lobby group exposes high-phosphate detergents that co...
The leaders of Canada and the United States agree to keep the Great La...
Industrial waste and cancerous chemicals lead to a ban on commercial f...
After an industrial-waste disaster at Love Canal in New York state, ho...
Chemical pollution wanes in Lake Erie and gull populations rebound, bu...
Ronald Reagan cuts the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Scientists may lose an "early-warning system" that uses herring gulls ...
Residents, scientists and governments want to know what lurks under th...
The United States and Canada pledge to improve water quality in the La...
Scientists describe the triumphs and trouble spots on the lakes and sa...
A pilot project aims to phase out pollution on the largest Great Lake.
The United States issues guidelines on what can be dumped in the lakes...
Chemical companies are barred from dumping persistent chlorine polluta...
An environmental group cooks up polluted pickerel and perch to make a ...
Farmers try striking a balance between protecting their crops and mini...
Birth defects can result from eating Great Lakes fish, but officials w...
Bacteria-laden beaches, lakes choked with algae and fish contaminated ...