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Lake Erie is blooming....

Once admired as a great example of the success that's possible when people set out to rescue a dying lake, Lake Erie is in peril once again. Click on the link for a good explanation of the problem by Douglas Main. In the 1960s, pollution was killing the lake: chemicals in the runoff from industry around the lake poisoned the water and shoals of dying fish beached on the sandy shores. Canadian scientists discovered the dangers lurking in phosphates, chemicals used in everyday household items like laundry detergents, and once those were removed, the lake began to recover. Fish and other acquatic life returned.

Unfortunately, we stopped paying attention and now Lake Erie is threatened by massive algae blooms that feed on phosphorous leaching into the lake in runoff of fertiliser from domestic lawns and fields of corn, which, ironically, is the raw material for the ethanol that is intended to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Some local authorities have taken measures to fight the problem. In Essex County, near Windsor for example, landowners can apply for a grant of up to $3,000 from the Conservation Authority to build windbreaks, rock chutes, and other apparatus to filter ground water and prevent phosphates from ending up in the lake. Essex includes the important bird sanctuary of Pelee Island, so its conservation measures have a wide effect.

Phosphates are also found in toothpaste and shampoos, so it's always a good idea to check the ingredients on personal hygiene products. Another dangerous ingredient that may be on its way out is plastic microbeads, found in exfoliating scrubs and some toothpastes. The beads pass through water filtration plants and end up in the lakes where they can be coated with PCBs and other chemicals. Then, fish eat them and they can end up adding danger to the food chain. Companies such as Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson are phasing out the use of these plastic pellets. Burt's Bees uses ground pecan shells instead in its facial scrubs. Check labels when you're buying these things. 5 Gyres, a group dedicated to fighting plastic pollution in the world's oceans, offers an app that iPhone users can dowload for free to scan product barcodes for dangerous plastics.

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