It’s nothing new; everyone knows that the Great Lakes are polluted. However, researchers have recently found pharmaceutical byproducts in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie which raise new concerns about the potential health risk for more than 40 million people who rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water.

The drugs are only a small part of the contaminants that make up the chemical soup stretching from Minnesota to New York. 

A new study by Alliance for the Great Lakes looks at existing data on chemicals and chemical byproducts in the lakes and the impact it may have on the Great Lakes.  “Exposure to some of these chemicals…is cause for consternation for people and concern over fish and wildlife impacts,” writes lead author Dr. Rebecca Klaper, Shaw Associate Professor at the Great Lakes WATER Institute in Milwaukee.

What’s in the chemical soup?

The study shows that there several emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes today including flame retardants, modern pesticides, pharmaceuticals, the antibacterial and antifungal agent Triclosan and the insect repellant DEET. The now famous bisphenol A (BPA)  used in a  large variety of plastics including baby bottles and food packaging, was found in more than half the water samples analyzed to date.

The conclusion

 There’s too little data  and not enough understanding about the emerging contaminants to know how they’ll affect the health of the Great Lakes organisms and the people who live around the lakes. Due to the flawed U.S. system for managing chemicals, exposure to some of these manmade and naturally occurring chemicals, in  water, land and air, is unavoidable. 

The Alliance is calling for a national comprehensive plan to address gaps in research regarding emerging contaminants’ potential harm to public health and the environment and to identify which chemicals may be the most damaging.

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