Great Lakes phosphorus levels worrisome

March 9, 2011 at 9:23 PM
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DETROIT, March 9 (UPI) -- Levels of phosphorus in the Great Lakes are rising and endangering the aquatic food chain and human health, a U.S.-Canadian agency says.

The International Joint Commission urged a renewed effort to get the oxygen-depleting chemical out of the water, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday.

The commission made the recommendation to both the U.S. and Canadian governments in its biennial report on the state of the Great Lakes given at Detroit's Wayne State University.

The two governments, currently renegotiating a bi-national water quality agreement, should include human health language in the agreement, the commission said.

It has been 15 years since the last programs to control phosphorus runoff ended, the CBC said.

The last few years have seen an increase in algae blooms caused by excessive nutrient runoff such as phosphorous, and those blooms include blue-green algae -- also known as cyanobacteria -- which produce toxins that pose a health risk to people and animals when they are exposed to them in large quantities, the report said.

"We don't know where the phosphorous is coming from," Bill Bowerman, chairman of the commission's science advisory board and a wildlife ecologist at South Carolina's Clemson University, said Wednesday.

"Some of our monitoring programs that would allow us to understand this either are under threat or have disappeared over the past 15 years."

Sources likely include inadequate municipal wastewater and residential septic systems, agricultural runoff, industrial livestock operations, and climate change, which causes more frequent and intense rainstorms, the commission said.

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