Do contaminants in the Great Lakes have an adverse effect on us?

The Great Lakes which consist of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario have been contaminated over many years. 

Professor of Biology at SCSU Heiko L. Schoenfuss said that the compounds in the Great Lakes are incredibly diverse and mostly originate in normal use in our households. Some people may pour their medicine in the form of pills down the toilet, but they don’t always dissolve or break down completely. As a result, these chemicals seep into the lake through the soil over time.

“Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides and industrial chemicals that enter aquatic environments through agricultural and urban stormwater runoff, on-site septic system discharge, and outflows from municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial sources,” he said.

He and his colleagues did a research study that focused on freshwater fish and their analysis revealed consistent patterns of “biological consequences of CEC exposure across all six tributaries”, he said.

 Their study also found chemicals in the waters can have a negative effect on the fish population and reproduction, in the Great Lakes.

“The current study highlights the need for greater integration of chemical and biological studies and suggests that CECs in the Laurentian Great Lakes Basin may adversely affect the reproductive potential of exposed fish populations,” he said.

Fortunately, the problem with the lake’s water doesn’t necessarily have a direct health risk to humans, but more research needs to be done to be completely sure about this.

“Effects in humans are by very different pathways (we are not immersed in water most of the time) and there is an intensive debate on the effects in humans,” he said.

There’s hope in curing the Great Lakes to make it safe for the Freshwater fish and other underwater life, except there needs to be a few changes and upgrade that needs to be implemented.

“If we reduce or stop using many of these compounds dispose of them properly and upgrade our wastewater treatment infrastructure we can reverse this pollution and its biological effects,” he said.

According to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Environmental Research Scientist Mark Ferrey, he measures how commonplace the chemicals in lakes and rivers are.

“Over the last ten years, I’ve done studies, we have done studies here looking at levels of medications and pharmaceuticals and personal care products in surface water and often we’ll see them at parts per trillion concentrations in the water, so it’s a very small concentration.”

Ferrey also pointed out that since these chemicals in the waters are of a minimal amount, it is very early to say how it will affect human beings. What has been discovered through research is the effect the chemicals are having an on fish life because they act like hormones.

“Some of the chemicals that we most frequently are antidepressants, Triclosan which is an antiseptic, and we find DEET quite frequently, those are some examples,” he said.

There are a variety of sources that have caused the lakes to be contaminated with so many chemicals and it is too soon to say how future effects are going to be. Nevertheless, people could try and be more conscious of how to better dispose of their medications or drugs, so that they dissolve and avoid more chemicals into the Great Lakes and rivers.

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Sarv Mithaqiyan

Sarv Mithaqiyan (a.k.a. Sodid Misaghian) is a Baha'i, journalist, philosopher and runs a YouTube channel entitled Elevated & Meaningful. He's a news reporter for UTVS and currently getting his Master's in Strategic Mass Communication at SCSU. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Minor in Religious Studies from UC Davis. Follow him on twitter @SarvMithaq

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