Cleanup of the Niagara River

[EPA press release - May 14, 1986]

Today EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas and Canada's Minister of the Environment Thomas McMillan concluded their latest environmental review of the U.S.-Canadian border. Their talks covered a range of topics from acid rain to problems of the Great Lakes. Cleanup of the Niagara River was the centerpiece of their meeting and they have issued the attached joint communique.

Joint communique by:
The Honorable Tom McMillan,
Minister of the Environment for Canada
Lee Thomas, Administrator
United States Environmental Protection Agency
On the Subject of the Cleanup of the Niagara River
May 14, 1986

The Administrator and the Minister agreed it is necessary to achieve significant reductions in the loadings of toxic chemicals in the Niagara River. They committed their agencies to complete, by July 1, 1987, a technical documentation of the pollution control measures needed to reduce direct discharges to the River.

This documentation will include timetables and targets that will enable both agencies to prepare a precise forecast of overall toxics reductions. This forecast will be updated annually and will be accompanied by a running account of accomplishments. Progress in implementing programs to clean up and protect the Niagara River will be reported to the public.

Both agency heads stated that it is highly desirable to establish goals for the reduction of toxic loadings identified in the 1984 Niagara River Toxics Committee report at the earliest possible date. As an example, they suggested that a 50% reduction of certain toxic chemicals, taking into account applicable water quality and drinking water standards, may be achievable by 1995 or sooner.

The two officials also agreed to:

  • Coordinate the existing chemical pollutant control activities in the Niagara River in both countries.
  • Establish a common basis for assessing the toxic chemical loadings to the River.
  • Identify priorities for control measures which will reduce these loadings.
  • Evaluate the success of these measures.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in close cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, is working actively with the Canadians on Niagara River issues. These activities include river monitoring, control of industrial and municipal discharges, proper management and cleanup of dumpsites, identification of chemicals of concern, and cooperation on other technical and scientific issues. These activities show that both governments are fully committed to protecting public health and the environment.

The governments of the United States, Canada, the State of New York, and the Province of Ontario have already responded to the Niagara River Toxics Committee report. The environmental agencies of both countries have been discussing for some time the means whereby they will cooperate in the implementation of pollution control programs, setting priorities, and evaluating the success of their joint efforts. Nearing completion is a Niagara River Toxics Management Plan which will provide the means for governments to cooperate on their common objective of restoring the condition of the River.

Mr. Thomas indicated that plans are well advanced to deal with the abandoned hazardous waste dumpsites in the vicinity of the Niagara River. He made particular reference to cleanup efforts at the four high priority disposal sites at Love Canal, Hyde Park, "S" Area, and 102nd Street. Mr. Thomas said: "All technological options are considered. The basic objective is the extraction and destruction of the toxic contents of the dumpsites to the maximum extent technologically feasible, taking into consideration public health and safety. The aim is to minimize leakage to the River. Where excavation has not been chosen as the preferred route, it is simply because it is not as effective as extraction technology in dealing with wastes that have migrated from the site into the surrounding bedrock." He noted that excavation may have application to particular aspects of some sites and would continue to be assessed on its merits.

Mr. Thomas stressed the range of complex technical problems encountered in the Niagara area, and indicated that not all new technologies have been fully demonstrated to be effective in dealing with them. The Administrator and the Minister agreed to sponsor a conference to review needed technology and effective regulatory procedures.

The plan to clean up the Niagara River represents a major effort by the two countries to address a shared toxic chemical pollution problem. It is the top priority for a cooperative approach to solving a problem in the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. The Administrator and the Minister agreed that the completed plan should be submitted to the International Joint Commission in fulfillment of their commitment to develop remedial plans for areas of concern identified by the Commission.

It is important to recognize that the cleanup of the Niagara River is already underway, and will continue for some time. However, much more progress toward that end can and will be made by both Canada and the United States.