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Agricultural and lawn fertilizers endanger Lake Erie

Tomorrow, the International Joint Commission will issue a new report called A Balanced Diet for Lake Erie that says this Great Lake is under threat from agricultural and lawn fertilizers. These phosphates get into the lake and foster massive blooms of green algae which absorb the oxygen in the lake and create dead zones.

CBC notes, “The report concludes that phosphorus is getting back into Lake Erie from agricultural fertilizers used in growing corn for ethanol and other crops. Domestic lawn fertilizers are also a source of the phosphorus, (the acting Canadian chair of the IJC Gordon Walker told the House of Commons environment committee). …The report says rivers in Indiana and Ohio that flow into Lake Erie are the largest sources of phosphorus, but some of it also comes from Ontario’s Grand and Thames rivers.”

“The report recommends the lake be declared ‘impaired’, which will trigger action under the U.S. Clean Water Act. In Canada that designation serves as a recommendation for action to the federal and Ontario governments. The report also recommends that both countries ban the use of fertilizers on frozen fields and increase the amount of protected wetlands that serve as a natural filter.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote in ‘Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever‘ that, “Phosphorus is a nutrient that in excess, will cause algae to grow out of control. Algae blooms can lead to biological death, called eutrophication. Measures to limit the nutrient included removing phosphorus in detergents and sewage treatment plants. This in turn led to the (perhaps only temporary it may now appear) recovery of Lake Erie and the shrinking of its ‘dead zone’. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Lakes, was clearly in trouble as far back as the 1930s, as a result of intensive industrial and farm activity, as well as wetland and habitat destruction on its shores.” (p.17)

In that report, Barlow called for, “Strict new regulations on industrial food production to curb chemical run-off, including the input streams feeding the Lakes.” (p.35)

For more on the Council of Canadians campaign to protect the Great Lakes, click here.