Thunder Bay·Audio

No deformities or reproductive problems in wildlife in Thunder Bay area of concern, new report says

The area in and around Thunder Bay, Ont. is one step closer to receiving a bill of good ecosystem health and then being de-listed from Environment and Climate Change Canada's Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC) project.

Report is part of monitoring done through Great Lakes Area of Concern project

Thunder Bay, Ont. is one step closer to being de-listed as a Great Lakes Area of Concern after an Environment and Climate Change Canada report showed that there are no physical deformities or reproduction problems in birds and animals in the area. (archive.epa.gov)

The area in and around Thunder Bay, Ont. is one step closer to receiving a bill of good ecosystem health and then being de-listed from Environment and Climate Change Canada's Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC) project.

The federal department released a new report indicating that birds and animals in the region seem to be free of physical deformities or reproductive problems.

Mark Chambers, senior program coordinator with the AOC project, said remediation efforts have greatly improved the environmental health of the Thunder Bay area.

"Thunder Bay has come a long way. I remember hearing stories about it being a working harbour. You saw the impact of the local industry. You could smell it. Now, when we've been going out to members of the community, presenting the results from the studies such as this, there's a real sense of excitement and optimism."

The Great Lakes Area of Concern project is a multi-partner project to identify and remediate areas with high levels of environmental harm. Thunder Bay was designated as an area of concern back in 1987, and remedial efforts have been going on since. The latest study results show that Thunder Bay is well on its way to improving its overall water quality and ecosystem health. 6:47

The Great Lakes AOC project is a long-standing collaborative project, born in the 1980s under the United States – Canada Great Lakes Water Quality agreement, with 43 locations in the two countries identified as areas of concern with high levels of environmental degradation.

Environment and Climate Change Canada, and its partners, assess changes to the health of the ecosystem by monitoring and measuring a list of indicators for each AOC.

Chambers said the bird and animal deformity assessment study looked at indicator species at the top of the food chain – specifically, herring gulls and cormorants – between 2012 and 2015 to determine if the birds had any deformities, reproduction problems, or accumulation of contaminants.

He said the results were very positive for Thunder Bay.

"Within the bird and animal deformity study, we found there are no physical deformities or reproductive problems and the level of chemicals or contamination within the water birds is actually one of the lowest levels of any of the Great Lakes areas studied."

Two major tasks remain to be completed

Chambers said Thunder Bay, which was designated an area of concern in 1987 due to "a legacy of past industrial activities, past municipal wastewater treatment and urbanization," still has more work to do before being de-listed as an AOC.

He said the two major tasks yet to be completed are improvements to wildlife habitats and addressing the contamination in Thunder Bay's north harbour.

"The Thunder Bay north harbour site is contaminated with mercury and enriched organic sediment from previous decades of operations of the former pulp and paper mill there."

Chambers added that new and ongoing projects in Thunder Bay would continue to address these issues, with the goal of completely remediating the Thunder Bay AOC in the near future.