Caution: Great Lakes may be Hazardous to Your Health

With her dying breath, Nancy Nichols sister asked her to write a book telling the world that her rare ovarian cancer was the result of years of living near, swimming in and eating fish from Waukegan Harbor on Lake Michigan.

Not only did Nancy write Lake Effect: Two Sisters and a Town’s Toxic Legacy but she also learned she had pancreatic cancer while researching for the book. Ms. Nichols recently discussed her story with National Public Radio host Diane Rehm–you can listen to the interview here. There is no prior history of cancer in Nancy’s family, but both girls are convinced they acquired the disease via years of Friday night fish fries, and swimming and playing in an area of concern – a very polluted part of the Great Lakes. Their story illustrates that when profits are piling up there is a distinct lack of concern for public health among government and business. It also illustrates why we can’t sit around and wait another ten years to clean up the remaining 28 Areas of Concern (AOC) that harbor these toxic chemicals.

This family’s tragic story just goes to show that restoring the Great Lakes isn’t only an environmental or economic issue; it is a public health issue. Cleaning up the AOC’s is about cleaning up our drinking water, our dinner plates and the future of our very own health.

This story has been published on the heals of a government cover up over the affect the toxic pollution is causing on public health, as well as a US Senate vote that determined that the Great Lakes Legacy Act (GLLA) will be funded at current levels for two more years. The GLLA is the best resource we have to clean up the AOCs and it has been very effective over the last five years, except that it is moving at a very slow pace. Our congressional delegation from the GL region tripled funding for the act over the next five years after learning such a move would clean up ALL the AOC’s within the next ten years. These hopes have been put on hold by the US Senate’s vote, but we have another opportunity in two years to try and increase funding and the pace of clean up once more. I wonder how many more stories like Nancy’s will be published by that time.

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