Photo by Jessica Avison

As previously mentioned, Eutrophication is the process by which additional nutrients are washed into surrounding bodies of water, and therefore cause excessive plant and algae growth. In the Lake Champlain Basin- as well as many others, this process is heavily stimulated by human activity leading to contamination by point and non-point source pollution (US Geological Survey). There are many chemicals, compounds, and “new generation” contaminants found in Lake Champlain Basin. These toxins are harmful to the people, ecosystems, and economies due to of the negative effects of these toxins and the high cost of treating them.

Toxins found in Lake Champlain include Mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Nitrates, Phosphorus, E-coli, Chloride, and other Emerging Contaminants (ECs). ECs are by-products of modern society (Phillips, 2009), and include chemicals released from: plastics, discarded pharmaceuticals and personal care products, fragrances, pesticides, flame retardants, and caffeine. These chemicals were found at relatively low levels, “measuring a few parts per billion” (Phillips, 2009). However, despite the low concentration, these toxins still remain a threat to health and a cost to society.

Wastewater treatment of lake Champlain

There are 60 wastewater facilities in Vermont that do not treat phosphorus, and therefore discharge the toxin right into the lake. From 1979 until 2001, 30 facilities in the Lake Champlain Basin were upgraded in order to successfully treat phosphorus wastewater. This project has cost an estimated 39 million dollars, but has successfully decreased the amount of harmful phosphorus released into the lake. Since 1991, the amount of phosphorus released into the lake has decreased by 83%. In the 1970’s, phosphorus from water treatment facilities accounted for almost half of the discharge into the lake; Now a days, it is estimated to be about 10%. It is in the interest of the Lake Champlain Basin to continue to improve the response of phosphorus from wastewater treatment plants (Agency of Natural Resources, 2009) due to the adverse effects of eutrophiciation and algae blooms in the Lake.

Toxins and Our Environment

Toxins in our environment are not stagnant; they are active and mobile nutrients that cycle and flow through our environment. Contaminants interact with their environment through the processes of: transportation, transformation, and bioaccumulation. Toxins are transported through the environment by ways of: land, water, air, and living things (Connell, 1990). They move and travel throughout our environment, moving into and around its surroundings. Along the way, they are transformed through: chemical, biological, and photochemical means. High concentrations of Mercury and PCBs are often found in the fatty flesh cells of fish. This is because bioaccumulation causes toxins in the environment to move up the food chain, and become storage sinks for these toxins in larger animals. It is important to understand these processes in order to understand how toxins interact with their environment, and the Lake Champlain Basin.

Most importantly, the associated risks of these chemicals are high because there are many unknown factors about their interactions. Over 95% of chemicals are untested, despite supposed action taken by the EPA to address this issue.

Endocrine Disruptors and Lake Champlain

Endocrine disruptors (EDs) are synthetic chemicals that act as hormones and trick the body into disrupting the function of the endocrine system. These false hormones sent from the glands travel throughout the body and adversely affect bodily functions. The endocrine system is responsible for regulating many functions of the body such as, development, growth, maturation, and functionality of organs (Natural Resources Defense Council, 1998).

Endocrine disruptors enter the environment by means of manufacturing and chemical plants, as well as when plastic and other materials are incinerated (Natural Resources Defense Council, 1998). EDs are often found in “new generation” contaminants such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, fumigants, as well as some detergents, resins, and plasticizers (materials added to building materials such as clay, plastic, concrete and others in order to make them more flexible). Additionally, EDs have been proven to leach out of these various types of building materials including plastic, and are once again released into the environment. Eventually, all of these materials are washed back into the Lake, endocrine disruptors, and all.

Endocrine disruptors found in water can be absorbed through the skin, by ingesting (through drinking water or eating fatty fish), and by breathing in toxins (Natural Resources Defense Council, 1998).The presence of toxins, which behave as endocrine disruptors, are a risk and a cost to the entire population of the lake Champlain basin, and should be minimized by any means possible.

There are many negative health affects relating to the exposure of endocrine disruptors including various reproductive problems, and abnormal swelling of thyroid glands (Natural Resources Defense Council, 1998). For example, lake Apopka in Florida has a decreasing alligator population, which has been linked to a large pesticide spill years ago. Endocrine Disrupting chemicals were found in these alligators and their eggs, and this is thought to be responsible for their decreased reproductive health due to diminished reproductive organ functionality (Agency of Natural Resources, 2009).

In some fish populations, such as Longnose dace found in Oldman River, Alberta Canada, endocrine disruptors have been responsible for an overtly female population of fish species. Ratios of female fish to male fish were as high as 9:1 in some areas of the lake. This form of severe endocrine disruption likely resulted from the, “combined impacts of municipal wastewater, agriculture, and large cattle operations within the basin” (Jeffries KM, 2008). This is important to note because the Lake Champlain Basin has similar land-use issues associated with water for human use, as seen in this example. We must look toward this as a possible outcome for the future of Lake Champlain. If nothing is done to address the exposure to these toxins, we are looking at serious environmental and human health degradation in the future.

Diethylstilbestrol (DES), another Endocrine disruptor, was prescribed in the 1950s and 60s to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage. However, this caused adverse affects in their children such as high rates of vaginal cancers in teenage women, as well as birth defects of the uterus and ovaries, and immune system suppression (Agency of Natural Resources, 2009).

Endocrine disruptors adversely affect human health as well as harm the environment, which we depend on to survive. Ultimately the effects of endocrine disruptors risk the long-term health and wellbeing of lake basin citizens, and have high costs associated with treatment to exposure. In addition, there are high costs associated with diminished environmental resilience, environmental degradation and lost ecosystem services attributed to exposure of endocrine disruptors. The region depends on the health of the lake for recreation, and economic benefit. So, therefore it is in the best interest of all parties to keep the lake clean and free of toxins.

Works Cited and Consulted

Agency of Natural Resources. (2009). Clean and Clear Action Plan . Retrieved 2010, from Clean and Clear Wastewater: http://www.anr.state.vt.us/cleanandclear/ww.htm

Connell, D. W. (1990). Bioaccumulation of Xenobiotic Compounds. CRC Press .

Jeffries KM, N. E. (2008). Basin-wide impacts of compounds with estrogen-like activity on longnose dace- Abstract. Retrieved 2010, from PubMed U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18380523

Lake Champlain Committee. (2010). Toxics in Lake Champlain and its Watershed. Retrieved April 2010, from Lake Champlain Committee: http://www.lakechamplaincommittee.org/lcc-at-work/toxics-in-lake/

Natural Resources Defense Council. (1998). Endocrine Disruptors. Retrieved 2010, from Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/qendoc.asp

Phillips, P., & Robinson, K. (2009).   Variety of chemicals found in waters    flowing into   Lake Champlain.  USGS.   Retrieved from http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2136.

US Geological Survey. (n.d.). Eutrophication. Retrieved from United States Geological Survey: http://toxics.usgs.gov/definitions/eutrophication.html

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005).   Ecosystems and human well-being:

Wetlands and water synthesis .  World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.  Retrieved from www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.358.aspx.pdf.

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