A University of Toronto study of the concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other chemicals in the rivers running into Lake Ontario reveals significantly higher concentrations in areas closest to the centre of Toronto, an indication of the profound effects the city has on water quality.

The team looked specifically at concentrations of chemicals that have been strongly associated with human health problems: PCBs, a banned industrial chemical from the 1970s; polycyclic musks, a common fragrance compound used in a range of personal care products; polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a recently banned flame retardant, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a toxic byproduct of fossil fuel combustion in the rivers. They also measured the concentration of these chemicals in air, soil and rain.

“In the Humber River watershed we saw an almost 100-fold increase in concentrations of polycyclic musks in the river water in the downtown area around Old Mill compared to parts of the river north of the city,” says Matthew Robson, a research fellow in U of T’s Department of Geography and Program in Planning.

“We saw similar increases in concentrations for all of the other chemicals in air, rain and soil. This, in turn, has a great effect on what goes into Lake Ontario and the Great Lakes system. For example when we looked at the amounts of PCBs entering Lake Ontario in rainfall we found that when you take into account the urban effect from Toronto alone, you get about 40 per cent more PCBs entering the lake.”

Other members of the research team include Lisa Melymuk and Susan Csiszar of U of T’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry and Miriam Diamond of U of T’s Department of Geography and Program in Planning, Paul Helm at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Sean Backus at Environment Canada. Research was funded by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Environment Canada and the U.S. Great Lakes Air Deposition Fund.

Robson will present his findings during the International Association of Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) conference being held at the University of Toronto May 17 – 21. Invasive species, toxic chemical contamination and the safety of eating Great Lakes fish are some of the challenges being addressed by more than 700 researchers and government at the conference.

Water Canada will be reporting from the conference.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. It always amazes me how people from the centre of the earth (Toronto) believe that they must demand and protest about the oilsands but are totally ignorant of what is happening in their backyard. I believe that this ignorance is based on a feel good attitude, complain about someone else, make it appear that you are doing something but keep your head in the sand when it comes to your own backyard. That way it doesn’t cost you anything and you do not have to change your lifestyle.
    This article is just another example on how Ontario as a whole is destroying their own environment. What else have we heard over the last couple of months, lets see dumping of 17,000 truck loads of toxic chemicals into the Great lakes every year, dumping of 53billion litres of raw sewage every year into Lake Ontario and so on and so on. But where is Grennpeace and all you so called environmentalist in Alberta complaining about the Tarsands, we haven’t even heard them on the Gulf disaster yet.
    You people deserve what you get, years of pollution, cancer rates sky rocketing, air you cannot breathe because you burn that terrible Alberta oil in your air conditions cars and homes, water taht you shouldn’t drink etc etc etc etc.
    It would be nice to see you people hold your government accountable to your mess and maybe payout the billions required to clean it up before you pollute the entire world. But I will not hold my breathe, while maybe only in Toronto.

  2. It always amazes me how people from the centre of the earth (Toronto) believe that they must demand and protest about the oilsands but are totally ignorant of what is happening in their backyard. I believe that this ignorance is based on a feel good attitude, complain about someone else, make it appear that you are doing something but keep your head in the sand when it comes to your own backyard. That way it doesn’t cost you anything and you do not have to change your lifestyle.
    This article is just another example on how Ontario as a whole is destroying their own environment. What else have we heard over the last couple of months, lets see dumping of 17,000 truck loads of toxic chemicals into the Great lakes every year, dumping of 53billion litres of raw sewage every year into Lake Ontario and so on and so on. But where is Grennpeace and all you so called environmentalist in Alberta complaining about the Tarsands, we haven’t even heard them on the Gulf disaster yet.
    You people deserve what you get, years of pollution, cancer rates sky rocketing, air you cannot breathe because you burn that terrible Alberta oil in your air conditions cars and homes, water taht you shouldn’t drink etc etc etc etc.
    It would be nice to see you people hold your government accountable to your mess and maybe payout the billions required to clean it up before you pollute the entire world. But I will not hold my breathe, while maybe only in Toronto.

  3. I think you’ll agree that the problem of PCBs (and environmental degradation in general) is not unique to Toronto. I hope you’ll also agree that it is scientific studies like this one that help expose the issues and motivate regulators to make things better for the future. Thank you for your comments.

  4. I think you’ll agree that the problem of PCBs (and environmental degradation in general) is not unique to Toronto. I hope you’ll also agree that it is scientific studies like this one that help expose the issues and motivate regulators to make things better for the future. Thank you for your comments.

  5. I agree that PCB’s is problem through out the world, either natural or man madehowever, that was not my point. My point is that people tend to look at problems outside of their backyard because it is easier to complain about someone else. It also does not require any monitary commitment or live styles chnage, all it requires is to donate a few bucks to some wacko group like greenpeace of wlf etc. and all is better.
    Toronto, Ontario and Quebec are prime examples of this, pollute the living hell out of your place but complain about the oilsands. Real change will only happen when you clean up your backyard first and become an example. Meanwhile what we have is nothing but hyprocrites period.

  6. I agree that PCB’s is problem through out the world, either natural or man madehowever, that was not my point. My point is that people tend to look at problems outside of their backyard because it is easier to complain about someone else. It also does not require any monitary commitment or live styles chnage, all it requires is to donate a few bucks to some wacko group like greenpeace of wlf etc. and all is better.
    Toronto, Ontario and Quebec are prime examples of this, pollute the living hell out of your place but complain about the oilsands. Real change will only happen when you clean up your backyard first and become an example. Meanwhile what we have is nothing but hyprocrites period.

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