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October 1984

cover: Report of the Niagara River Toxics Committee, October 1984


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Niagara River Toxics Management Plan (NRTMP) Reports

On it's route from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, the Niagara River passes through a complex of steel,  petrochemical, and chemical manufacturing industries . The Niagara Frontier's proximity to a source of cheap electrical power and water for use in industrial processing has caused it to become a highly industrialized area, particularly on the U.S. side. Historically , decisions about the development of the Niagara Frontier have been based solely on economic factors, such as the creation of jobs and the production o f cheaper materials. These decisions have proven to be the cause o f environmental problems both in the Niagara River and the surrounding area. More recently, environmental degradation and its impact on human health has become a prevailing consideration in decisions regarding use and management of the Niagara River. Over the last decade, high levels of bacteria, phenols, oil , iron , phosphorus, chloride, mercury, and color have been reduced significantly. Currently, toxic substances and their effects on human health and the ecosystem are being focused on. Major toxic waste disposal sites have been identified along the Niagara River corridor, and toxic substances have been measured in the effluents of Industrial and municipal facilities discharging into the river . With increased research, the link between the discharge of toxic substances into the Niagara River and the subsequent effects on the ecosystem has become more clear . In some cases, conditions in Lake Ontario can be attributed directly to substances from the Niagara River; the occurrence of mirex and dioxin in Lake Ontario fish is an example of such a direct relationship. Certain species of fish from specific areas of the lake are banned for commercial fishing as a result of mirex and PCB levels, attributable, in part, to Niagara River contaminants. In other cases, the linkage is less direct but nonetheless real; chemicals originating in the Niagara River combine with other sources to Lake Ontario to contaminate the water, sediment, and biota in the lake. The presence of toxic chemicals in the Niagara River is not new; these substances have probably been in the river for years. The development of more sophisticated analytical equipment and methodology has led to greater detection capability, enabling scientists to find chemicals at very low concentrations. Unfortunately, the ability to detect these compounds has outstripped our ability to correlate their concentrations with direct adverse effects on human health and the environment. Existing long term data show a decline in many contaminants, and, for the chemicals for which drinking water standards exist, monitoring shows that they are within current Canadian and United States limits. The development of drinking water standards is an on-going process, however, and there are chemical compounds presently being identified in the Niagara River for which no standards have as yet been established.

Many members of the public feel that there has been a lack of government concern and action in assessing and solving the problems in the Niagara River. In fact, pollution in the Niagara River has been a major concern of federal, state and provincial governments since the early 1950's. Millions of dollars have been, and are continuing to be spent by government and industry in implementing clean-up programs, determining the effectiveness of river clean-up programs, and identifying additional contamination sources requiring action. Significant progress has already been made in alleviating the sources of many of the earlier problems, largely through the control of municipal and industrial waste discharges. A continuing effort is now being directed at solving the more complex problems of toxic substance contamination in the Niagara River. In many cases, the scientific basis for understanding the environmental and human health significance of these chemical compounds, either individually or in combination, does not exist and will have to be developed. This is by no means an easy or inexpensive task, nor can it be accomplished in a short time frame. In the mean time, responsible Canadian and U.S. agencies have accepted the premise that they will have to make decisions regarding the control of toxic substances in the absence of all the evidence that might be scientifically desirable. In summary, the occurrence of toxic chemicals in the Niagara River is a major public concern in both countries. While much has been accomplished, toxic substances remain a problem. The task is to assess what is there, identify the sources, implement additional appropriate abatement strategies, and monitor the effectiveness of these strategies.


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