Thunder Bay·Audio

Toxic threats to Great Lakes demand action, environmentalist says

A longtime environmentalist says governments on both sides of the border are failing to keep harmful toxic chemicals out of the Great Lakes.

Many of the toxic chemicals leaching into the lakes come from consumer products, says John Jackson

The Canadian Environmental Law Association says hundreds of harmful chemicals are getting into the Great Lakes, but very little is being done to monitor or regulate the problem. (

Nearly three years after Canada and the United States updated the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, both governments are failing to keep harmful toxic chemicals out of the Great Lakes, a longtime environmental activist says.

John Jackson is a board member with the Canadian Environmental Law Association, which recently released a report on the rising number of new "chemicals of concern" in the Great Lakes. 

Environmentalists have compiled a list of 500 worrying substances in the water, said Jackson, but there are no action plans to stop the pollution. 

"And that's a major concern," said Jackson. "It's not good enough to say these [chemicals] are something we should worry about."

"What are we going to do about them?"

Chemicals coming from consumer products

While industrial pollution is still a concern, Jackson said many of the chemicals entering the lakes today are leaching out of consumer products. 

Flame retardants, for example, are found in everything from couches, to computers, he said, adding that once toxic chemicals get into the water, they are very difficult to eliminate.

Jackson said he's worried about what kind of unknown, long-term impacts the toxic substances could have on the lakes, particularly Lake Superior. 

"Lake Superior we look at now, quite rightly, as a relatively clean lake," he said. "If we don't prevent [chemicals] from going in ... it will be in a situation decades down the road, that we would not today consider acceptable." 

What's important, Jackson said, is to do much better testing of chemicals before using them in products, so that they don't get into the water in the first place. Once they do, he said, "it's too late."


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