Drugs, microplastics, forever chemicals a growing concern in Great Lakes | Bridge Michigan

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ONT Great Lakes contaminants still Williamson

Technology and laws to address new water contaminants exists — just not in Canada

When it comes to emerging contaminants, Ontario lags far behind other Great Lakes governments. In 2020, Michigan began implementing an industrial pretreatment program requiring wastewater facilities to measure quantities of seven PFAS entering their plants. Above a certain threshold, industry is mandated to reduce them. New York has also created a detailed approach to tackle PFAS that includes allocating funding to upgrade water and wastewater infrastructure. In 2022, the state banned the sale of certain household cleaning and personal care products that include contaminants. 

Hamza, Gillbride and Hania believe the best way Canada can protect its water in the Great Lakes and beyond is to ban products containing these contaminants so they don’t seep into our ecosystem. The federal government has made some moves — in 2019, Canada banned the sale of toiletries with microbeads and in 2022, banned six single-use plastic items— but given the scope of the problem, the researchers say it’s not enough. 

The way Canadian legislation works, “if you can demonstrate there’s a risk, you can stop it,” Gillbride said. That approach, the researchers said, fails to proactively address the issue, as they watch levels of new contaminants in our water rise. 

Hamza said technology to remove most PFAS and all pharmaceuticals is being developed rapidly, but requires dedicated funding to become a reality. The global importance of the Great Lakes means instituting such systems here soon is crucial, she said.

“Contaminants keep changing and growing,” Hamza said. “We’ll get much more. Are we really going to wait to see humans impacted before we start addressing this?” 

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