Environment Canada

Environment Canada
Ontario Ministry of the Environment

Ontario Ministry of the Environment

June 11, 2005 09:00 ET

Environment Canada: Governments of Canada and Ontario Report Progress in Restoring the Environmental Health of the Great Lakes Basin

KINGSTON, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - June 11, 2005) - Canada and Ontario have made major strides in improving water quality, rehabilitating fish and wildlife habitat and reducing toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes Basin, according to a new progress report on the first two years of the 2002 Canada-Ontario (COA) Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.

The report was released today by Canada's Environment Minister, the Honourable Stephane Dion, and Ontario's Environment Minister, the Honourable Leona Dombrowksy, at a forum of Great Lakes managers and stakeholders at the International Joint Commission's 2005 Great Lakes Conference and Biennial meeting.

At the same time, both ministers congratulated community and agency partners who collaborated in developing a sediment management strategy for the Cornwall waterfront, which was also introduced at the forum.

"Through agreements such as COA, we are continuing to build on past successes in restoring the environment of the Great Lakes basin," said Minister Dion. "The Cornwall Sediment Strategy is a leading-edge partnership and illustrates our common pursuit and continued commitment to a sustainable development."

"COA's success is due in large part to a tremendous commitment to co-operation," said Minister Dombrowsky. "The Cornwall Sediment Strategy is a unique collaboration between governments, environmental groups and academics, which perfectly illustrates how well the partnership approach is working."

The Cornwall Sediment Strategy calls for contaminated sediments along the waterfront to be left undisturbed to allow natural recovery to continue. The strategy was developed after 30 years of environmental data showed that the mercury-contaminated sediments are stable and pose no risk to people or the environment.

A group of seven agencies from four levels of government (municipal, provincial, federal and First Nations) are committed to an ongoing and active role in implementing the strategy. In addition, Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment have established a long-term monitoring program to ensure the strategy remains effective.

COA is a five-year agreement that builds on more than 30 years of collaboration between the governments of Canada and Ontario in addressing Great Lakes issues. The COA outlines how the two governments will continue to work together to focus efforts and help clean up the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.

Implementation of the Canada-Ontario Agreement is co-ordinated by Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.

(Egalement offert en francais)

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The 2002 Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA) commits the governments of Canada and Ontario to work together and with groups and individuals to ensure a healthy, prosperous and sustainable ecosystem in the Great Lakes Basin.

The 2002 COA is a five-year agreement that builds on the actions taken through previous agreements for federal-provincial cooperation on the Great Lakes. It defines priorities, including the clean-up of Areas of Concern (AOCs), responding to lakewide issues, the reduction of harmful pollutants and increased federal/provincial co-operation on a lake-by-lake basis.

The first biennial progress report on the 2002 COA describes the achievements during 2002 and 2003, and highlights the roles played by local and regional governments, industry, and community and environmental groups in carrying out area projects that contribute to the protection of the entire Great Lakes basin ecosystem.

Some of the highlights from the report include:

Areas of Concern

Severn Sound

- In 2003, the Severn Sound area of Georgian Bay became the second site to be removed from the list of Great Lakes sites - Canada's Areas of Concern - that suffer from environmental problems. The first to be removed was Collingwood Harbour in 1994. With the delisting of Severn Sound, there are 15 Canadian AOCs, five of which Canada shares with the U.S.

- Cleaning up the waters of Severn Sound required the actions of both the federal and provincial governments, with strong support from local municipalities and the public (including the Severn Sound Environmental Association) over a 13-year period. The efforts involved reducing phosphorus levels by controlling storm water and rural runoff, protecting sensitive lands and threatened habitat, and monitoring water and sediment quality and overall ecosystem health.

Thunder Bay

- Thunder Bay Harbour suffers from many years of industrial pollution and municipal wastewater discharge. While still on the list of AOCs, major steps have been taken that include cleaning up approximately 60,000 cubic metres of contaminated sediment.

- Also implemented were storm water control improvements, a program to replace lost fish habitat, and tree planting. The city was one of three municipalities to receive federal-provincial infrastructure funding in 2002-2003 to upgrade its sewage treatment plant.

Sewage Treatment Plants

- In addition to Thunder Bay receiving funding for upgrading its sewage treatment plant, funding was also provided to upgrade the St. Marys River-Sault Ste. Marie East plant and the Detroit River-Windsor plants.

Harmful Pollutants

Reducing PCBs

- Progress continued in reducing the number of federal and private PCB storage sites in the Great Lakes basin. In 1993, there were 1,555 storage sites, but only 550 remained at the end of 2003. In 1993, there were some 25,000 tonnes of high-level PCB wastes in storage; in 2003, that amount had been reduced by about 86 per cent, to approximately 3,854 tonnes.

Dioxins and Furans

- Dioxins and furans were reduced by 84 per cent from a 1988 baseline. Much of the reduction resulted from efforts addressing emissions from waste incinerators, iron ore sintering plants, steel manufacturers and pulp and paper mills.

- Also involved in reducing these toxic chemicals were locally developed pilot projects involving public education and outreach in the Thunder Bay area, and Lanark and Leeds in Eastern Ontario, to end the practice of burning trash and garbage in open barrels. These "burn barrels" are in use on thousands of rural properties and are the fourth-largest source of dioxins and furans in the province.


- The release of mercury into the Great Lakes basin has been reduced from more than 14,000 kilograms a year in 1988, to just under 2,100 kilograms annually by the end of 2003. This is an 85 per cent decrease resulting from actions such as Ontario regulations to ensure the successful closure of all the 70 existing hospital incinerators. New provincial standards for incinerator operation have also reduced mercury emissions by an estimated 400 kilograms a year alone, from year 2000 levels.

- Also contributing to the success of mercury reduction efforts is the Switch Out Program, which focuses on collecting mercury switches from scrapped automobiles in an effort to keep the element out of the environment. Other efforts include reducing the amount of mercury in fluorescent lamps and reducing the amount of mercury discharged from dentists' offices.

Lake-wide Management

- Biennial Lake-wide Management Plan reports were completed in 2002 for Lakes Superior, Erie and Ontario. They describe the state of the lake, causes of ecological impairment and actions required to restore environmental quality.

- The Environmental Farm Plan Incentive Program supported environmentally sound farm practices, including water quality initiatives and farm buffer strips.

- The multi-agency binational Great Lakes Human Health Network was initiated to share health information among governments and their agencies. Work was also carried out on the establishment of the complementary Canada-Ontario Public Health Network, to facilitate communication on human and environmental health issues in the Great Lakes.

- Fish samples continue to be collected and analyzed to monitor remediation efforts and to keep the public informed on contaminant levels through the Ontario Sport Fish Consumption Advisory Program.

Monitoring and Information Sharing

- An inventory of ongoing environmental monitoring programs was implemented to track trends and long-term changes in environmental quality, ecosystem composition and function.

- Monitoring needs were reviewed for technical committees to support the development and implementation of lake-wide management plans, tracking of harmful pollutant loadings and reductions, and the assessment of progress in restoring impaired uses in Areas of Concern.

- A system to share information and scientific data among government, organizations and basin residents was initiated. The new system, called Lakeviews, will provide easy tracking and access to diverse environmental information gathered from through out the Great Lakes basin.


- Signatories to the Agreement are the federal Ministers of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Health, Heritage, Natural Resources, Public Works and Government Services, and Transport; and the provincial Ministers of Agriculture and Food, Environment and Natural Resources.

Ontario's involvement in COA is co-ordinated by Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.

Copies of the progress report are available from:

Environment Canada
Communications Branch, Ontario Region
4905 Dufferin Street
Downsview, Ontario M3H 5T4
(416) 739-4826
Web site: www.on.ec.gc.ca
E-mail: EnviroInfo.Ontario@ec.gc.ca

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment
Public Information Centre
135 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto, Ontario M4V 1P5
(416) 325-4000 or toll free 1-800-565-4923
Web site: www.ene.gov.on.ca
E-mail: picemail@ene.gov.on.ca



The Cornwall Sediment Strategy is a unique collaboration between community partners, environmental groups and federal, provincial, municipal and Mohawk governments for dealing with historically contaminated sediments in three zones along the Cornwall waterfront.

The Cornwall Sediment Strategy is based on:

- a thorough review of 30 years of environmental data;

- a biomagnification study to assess the potential for the mercury in sediment to accumulate and magnify in the food chain;

- a study of sediment stability in the area; and

- a comprehensive assessment of sediment management options.

Community and agency partners in the development of the Cornwall Sediment Strategy include:

- City of Cornwall
- Mohawk Council of Akwesasne - Dept. of Environment
- Environment Canada
- Ontario Ministry of the Environment
- Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
- St. Lawrence River Restoration Council
- Cornwall District Environment Committee

- St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences
- Raisin Region Conservation Authority
- Zone d'intervention prioritaire - Haut-Saint-Laurent
- AKZO Nobel (purchased Courtaulds Fibres)
- Domtar Papers
- ICI Engineering
- Biology Department, University of Ottawa

Sediment Contamination at Cornwall

There are three zones of fine-grained sediment with elevated levels of mercury and other metals along the Cornwall waterfront. These sediments have accumulated over time where slower currents allow the fine particles to settle and remain on the bottom. Mercury sediment contamination reflects local discharges from more than 70 years of industrial activity along the waterfront.

Mercury concentrations in sediments have decreased over the last 30 years, but are still elevated. Deeper, more contaminated sediments are being covered over naturally with cleaner sediments that are accumulating in these areas at rates ranging from 0.8 to 2.6 cm/year. Detailed scientific investigations into sediment stability, including underwater video of the effects of propeller wash, show the deposits are stable.

Thirty years of environmental data and recent studies on biomagnification and sediment stability show sediments along the Cornwall waterfront:

- are not toxic to sediment-dwelling organisms or to fish;

- are not a major source of mercury to fish in the area through the food chain;

- do not pose a risk to people or the environment;

- do not pose a risk to swimmers along the waterfront; and

- are not the cause of elevated levels of mercury in walleye in the Lake St. Francis and Cornwall area.

An assessment of sediment management options showed no environmental benefit from dredging or capping, because mercury in sediment along the Cornwall waterfront is not a major contributor to mercury in fish.

Cornwall Sediment Strategy - Management

Continued natural recovery, combined with administrative controls, and long-term monitoring is the strategy for managing contaminated sediments along the Cornwall waterfront.

Administrative Controls Protocol: Collaboration for Environmental Protection

Seven participating agencies developed an Administrative Controls Protocol to ensure sediments are not disturbed by human activities. Administrative controls are the planning, approval and permit control mechanisms that municipal, provincial and federal governments and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne can apply to regulate activities along the river.

Partners in Long-term Protection

- Environment Canada

- Ontario Ministry of the Environment

- Department of Fisheries and Oceans

- Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

- Raisin Region Conservation Authority

- City of Cornwall

- Mohawk Council of Akwesasne

The Administrative Controls Protocol outlines principles, the decision process, and roles and responsibilities of all participating agencies. It harmonizes agency mandates and strengthens and co-ordinates a common review process for regulating activities that have potential to disturb sediments.

There must be no disturbance, exposure or re-suspension of contaminated sediments. All permit applications and proposed projects along the Cornwall waterfront will be assessed by all seven agencies based on the Protocol's decision-making framework. The Raisin Region Conservation Authority is the lead for co-ordinating the application review process, confirming the response of all agencies and notifying the proponent of decisions.

The Protocol promotes open communication and facilitates discussion between parties to review applications and exchange new information. The Protocol also calls for shared responsibility and commitment to long-term public education and awareness.

Long-term Environmental Monitoring

Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment have developed a draft long-term monitoring strategy and are in discussions with industry regarding their potential support. This strategy includes comprehensive environmental monitoring to ensure conditions continue to improve and to ensure the strategy is working. The monitoring program includes assessment of sediment quality, sediment-dwelling organisms and fish.

Remedial Action Plans

A Remedial Action Plan (RAP) is a strategy for environmental recovery developed and implemented for Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCS), which are environmentally degraded areas according to the commitments laid out in the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) 1987 Protocol.

RAPs use a comprehensive ecosystem approach to restoring and protecting the environment in areas of concern, considering the health and needs of fish, wildlife and humans. Each RAP involves the following steps:

- defining the problem;

- planning for implementation;

- implementing the actions; and

- monitoring the restoration of the environment.

Public involvement is a key component in every stage of the RAP process.

The St. Lawrence River at Cornwall Area of Concern

This Area of Concern includes a stretch of the St. Lawrence River approximately 60 kilometres long, from the Moses-Saunders power dam (just upstream of Cornwall) to the eastern outlet of Lake St. Francis in Quebec. It is a complex jurisdictional area involving Canada, the U.S., Ontario, Quebec, New York State and Mohawks of Akwesasne interests.

Why is this an area of concern?

Major environmental issues of concern in the area include:

- mercury, PCBs and other contaminants of concern in water, sediments and fish;

- bacterial contamination leading to beach postings;

- habitat destruction and degradation;

- excessive growth of nuisance aquatic plants;

- exotic species; and

- fish and wildlife health impacts.

Historically, contaminants have entered the St. Lawrence River environment from the upper river and Lake Ontario, from local industrial and municipal discharges, urban stormwater, agricultural runoff and other diffuse sources such as air deposition.

What is being done?

A Remedial Action Plan was developed for Cornwall through a partnership between federal and provincial governments, with input from the Mohawks of Akwesasne and the Cornwall Public Advisory Committee.

The RAP process identified 64 recommended remedial actions to restore environmental conditions in the St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) AOC. These recommendations, including two dealing with contaminated sediment, were documented in the Stage 2 Report, Great Lakes, Great River released in 1997. Most actions have been completed or are ongoing.

The RAP will continue to make progress by identifying and meeting targets for ecosystem health. When these targets are met, the RAP will be deemed a success and the region will be delisted as a Great Lakes Area of Concern.

The U.S. independently developed a Remedial Action Plan for the Area of Concern at Massena, New York to address sources and causes of environmental degradation from the U.S. side of the St. Lawrence River.

Related Web sites

Canadian Remedial Action Plans: http://www.on.ec.gc.ca/water/raps/intro_e.html

St. Lawrence Area of Concern: http://www.on.ec.gc.ca/water/raps/cornwall/intro_e.html

Massena Remedial Action Plan: http://www.epa.gov/grtlakes/aoc/

For more information, please contact:

Janette Anderson
Restoration Programs Co-ordinator
Environmental Conservation Branch
Environment Canada, Ontario Region
(905) 336-6277

Laurie Thibeault
Communications Advisor
Environment Canada, Ontario Region
(416) 735-8697

Susan Humphrey
Manager, Restoration Projects Division
Environmental Conservation Branch
Environment Canada, Ontario Region
(416) 739-5882

John Steele
Communications Branch
Ontario Ministry of the Environment

Contact Information

  • Office of the Minister of Environment
    Andre Lamarre
    Director of Communications
    (819) 997-1441
    Environment Canada, Ontario Region
    Mike Goffin
    Director, Great Lakes and Corporate Affairs
    (416) 739-4936
    Ontario Ministry of the Environment
    Art Chamberlain
    Minister's Office
    (416) 314-5139
    Ontario Ministry of the Environment
    John Steele
    Communications Branch
    (416) 314-6666