GAO report on the Great Lakes

The GAO reports on the inability to measure small amounts of toxins in the Great Lakes that can cause harm. The same is true, as described in other posts, for unborns and babies. Is this a worthy function of government to oversee, water and babies being crucial also to us? How would a free market handle this?

“In 1990, following a series of binational agreements aimed at improving
environmental conditions in the Great Lakes Basin, the Congress passed
the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act. This act, which amended the Clean
Water Act, required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to
publish water quality guidance on minimum water quality standards and
antidegradation policies for protecting existing water quality. In response,
in 1995, EPA published the Final Water Quality Guidance for the Great
Lakes System, otherwise known as the GLI, to control over 100 toxic
pollutants and protect aquatic life, wildlife, and human health. Through the
GLI, EPA established stringent water quality criteria—numeric values to
be used by states to set pollutant discharge limits for point sources—for 9
BCCs and 20 other pollutants found in the basin. In addition, the GLI
established methodologies that the states are to use in developing criteria
for the remaining pollutants. Meeting the criteria established by GLI
requires sensitive analytical methods that allow measurement of pollutant
concentrations at or below the level established by GLI water quality

The ability to accurately and reliably measure pollutant concentrations is
vital to successfully implementing GLI water quality criteria. Without this
ability, it is difficult for states to determine if a facility’s discharge is
exceeding GLI water quality criteria and if a discharge limits are required.
For example, because chlordane has a water quality criterion of 0.25
nanograms per liter but can only be measured down to a level of 14
nanograms per liter, it cannot always be determined if the pollutant is
exceeding the criterion. As we reported in 2005, developing the analytical
methods needed to measure pollutants at the GLI water quality criteria
level is a significant challenge to fully achieving GLI goals. Although
methods have been developed for the nine BCCs for which GLI water
quality criteria have been established, EPA has only approved the methods
to measure mercury and lindane below GLI’s stringent criteria levels.
Analytical methods for the other BCCs either have not received EPA
approval or cannot be used to reliably measure to GLI criteria levels.

Table 1: Status of BCC Analytical Methods
BCC Status of method to measure GLI water quality criteria
Chlordane Measures above the GLI criterion
Dieldrin Measures above the GLI criterion
DDT Measures at the GLI criterion but not yet approved by EPAa
Hexachlorobenzene Measures above the GLI criterion
Lindane Measures below the GLI criterion and approved by EPA
Mercury Measures below the GLI criterion and approved by EPA
PCBs Measures above the GLI criterion
2,3,7,8-TCDD Measures above the GLI criterion
Toxaphene Measures above the GLI criterion
Source: GAO analysis of EPA information.