The Great Lakes Toxic Substances Control Agreement


The Governors of the Great Lakes States declare their shared intention to manage and protect the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin as stated in the Great Lakes Charter:

"The water resources of the Great Lakes Basin are precious public natural resources, shared and held in trust by the Great Lakes States and Provinces."

"As trustees of the Basin's natural resources, the Great Lakes States and Provinces have a shared duty to protect, conserve, and manage the renewable but finite waters of the Great Lakes Basin for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of all their citizens, including generations yet to come. The most effective means of protecting, conserving and managing the water resources of the Great Lakes is through the joint pursuit of unified and cooperative principles, policies and programs mutually agreed upon, enacted and adhered to by each and every Great Lakes State and Province."

The quality of Great Lakes Basin waters is threatened by toxic contamination from numerous sources transported in a variety of ways, and the interdependence of the system requires integrated management of toxic substances in the region.

Jurisdictions surrounding the Great Lakes must work together toward the development of comprehensive, integrated and complementary policies on the control of toxic substances which will protect the quality of water resources in the Great Lakes Basin for generations to come.


The purpose of this agreement is to establish a framework for coordinated regional action in controlling toxic pollutants entering the Great Lakes system; to further understanding of toxic contaminants and ways to control them; and to redirect our common goals, management practices and control strategies for toxic contamination to ensure a cleaner Great Lakes ecosystem.


Principle I
The Governors of the Great Lakes States agree that management of the water resources of the Great Lakes should be based on the recognition of the economic and environmental importance of this natural resource.

The Great Lakes constitute the largest single system of fresh surface water in the world and our region's most precious and vital natural resource. They are important both nationally and internationally. The Great Lakes support a multitude of activities and occupations including fishing, swimming, boating, tourism, agriculture, industry and shipping. They are a source of drinking water and energy. These uses are interdependent and require a high standard of water quality.

Principle II
The Governors commit to managing the Great Lakes as an integrated ecosystem, recognizing that the water resources of the Basin transcend political boundaries.

The management of water quality has traditionally focused on control of point sources; however, recent research indicates that pollutants also enter the Basin indirectly through atmospheric deposition, through erosion of soils and disturbances of sediments, through runoff from non-point sources such as urban and rural storm water and snow melt, and through groundwater. The relatively closed nature of the system makes the Great Lakes especially vulnerable to pollution. Consequently, the actions of one jurisdiction or user in the system may have an impact on others. Because of this interdependence and the resource's economic and social value to the region, it is crucial that the lakes be managed as an integrated system.

Principle III
The signatory States concur that the problem of persistent toxic substances constitutes the foremost environmental issue confronting the Great Lakes.

Toxic contaminants identified in the Great Lakes have raised water quality management to a new level of complexity. The pollutants themselves are numerous, their pathways into the lakes are varied and their effects on the environment, aquatic life and human health are not well understood. However, some studies have demonstrated that toxic contamination can lead to changes in infant behavior, reproductive disorders and cancer. About 30,000 chemical compounds are utilized in the Great Lakes Basin with an additional 1,000 generated each year. In 1985, the International Joint Commission's Great Lakes Water Quality Board reported that among chemicals of potential concern to human health and the environment, approximately 500 had been identified in the Great Lakes. As they become increasingly concentrated, these substances have an adverse effect on water quality.

Principle IV
The signatory States commit to continue reducing toxics in the Great Lakes Basin to the maximum extent possible. Such actions shall be consistent with the Federal Clean Water Act goal of prohibiting the discharge of toxic pollutants in toxic amounts, as well as the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement's aim to "virtually eliminate" the discharge of all persistent toxic substances.

The Great Lakes States have implemented numerous toxic substances control programs and measures and have achieved significant reductions in certain organic pesticides and metals. However, the complexity of the problem calls for continued action and, in many cases, new and creative initiatives. Working toward the goal of prohibiting the discharge of toxic pollutants in toxic amounts affords a fundamental reference point against which to measure each successive generation of regulatory initiatives as States work within the means provided by law.

Principle V
The signatory States commit to cooperating among themselves and with local and state agencies, regional groups, the federal government, the International Joint Commission and the public in the study, monitoring and management of the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin.

The complexity of the toxic substances problem calls for a cooperative approach among the jurisdictions and organizations who share responsibility for the management of the Great Lakes Basin. The sheer number of toxic compounds and the variety of pathways of contamination will frustrate efforts made by individuals or institutions working separately on isolated elements of the problem. Cooperative efforts in gathering and analyzing data and developing pollution-control initiatives will lead to more effective management and will be to the benefit of all the Basin's citizens.

Principle VI
The signatory States agree to work cooperatively to improve the region's information retrieval and technical analysis capabilities, recognizing that compatible data bases are key to the development of effective regulations and the control of toxic substances Basin-wide.

Information on the potentially harmful effects of many chemicals found in the lakes is unavailable or incomplete. Fundamental data may be needed before appropriate questions can be framed. In addition, analytical techniques such as risk assessment or toxicity testing may be in preliminary stages of development. The application of information obtained through shared data bases and analysis can lead to more effective toxic substances control policies and practices.


Federal Role in Regulating Toxic Substances

The toxic substances threatening the Great Lakes are not confined to the region; they are evident in surface waters throughout the United States. Federal pollution control laws enacted in the 1970s envisioned uniform national standards for toxic substances and stringent national regulation. Yet the federal government has historically been unable to establish standards for many of the toxic chemicals of concern in the Great Lakes. As a result of this failure to act, costly duplication of research and standard- setting continues to occur among the States. The absence of uniform national standards may encourage competition for economic development to the detriment of the Great Lakes Region and endanger public health and the environment.

The Governors do not view this agreement as relieving the federal government of its obligation with respect to the management of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes States should, through coordinated efforts, use their influence to help shape federal policies and legislation related to toxic substances.


  1. The Great Lakes Governors will work together through appropriate national associations and through their Congressional delegations, to advocate:
    1. Increased federal emphasis on toxic pollution prevention;
    2. Continued federal commitment to the goals and intent of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement;
    3. Adequate funding to implement existing federal toxic pollution control programs;
    4. Full funding for federal Great Lakes research and management programs;
    5. The expeditious development of additional national criteria or standards for toxic substances to protect both the ecosystem and human health, and national guidelines that can be used as a reference point while standards are being developed;
    6. The expansion of toxicological research, such as research aimed at improving the understanding of the interaction of toxic chemicals in living systems, and the development of new toxicity testing methods;
    7. The expansion of federal initiatives for prompt remedial action, including those for contaminated sediments, Superfund sites, federal properties, spill cleanups and areas of concern.
  2. The Council of Great Lakes Governors will coordinate an annual review of the proposed federal budget, legislation, regulations and other federal initiatives to identify those which may affect the water quality of the Great Lakes. In conducting this review, the Council shall work with the eight Great Lake States' Washington offices, the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast- Midwest Institute. The Council will develop policy positions on identified issues of concern and communicate consensus positions to the Administration and the region's Congressional delegations. The first review will be completed by March 31, 1987.
  3. The signatory States call for a thorough examination of the implementation of the current United States-Canadian Great Lake Water Quality Agreement, identifying the successes and failures of each party, before renegotiations are initiated.
  4. The signatory States agree to seek an active role for the States should renegotiation of the Agreement be agreed to by the federal governments of the United States and Canada.

Clean Water: An Economic and Environmental Resource

The signatory States recognize that maintaining Great Lakes water quality and stimulating economic growth are complementary goals. Maintaining and improving the quality of Great Lakes waters will sustain water supply systems and commercial, manufacturing and recreation industries, while creating new economic development opportunities.

The signatories of this document agree that competing for business investments by lowering environmental protection and public health standards threatens the region's most important natural resource, its clean water.


  1. The Governors agree that to attract new business to their States by lowering environmental and health standards or weakening enforcement standards is unacceptable.
  2. To preserve the value of these special waters, jurisdictions surrounding the Great Lakes will strive to maintain a high standard of water quality when establishing regulatory standards. The issuance of permits for new or increased discharges that enter directly into the Great Lakes and have the potential to lower water quality shall be considered only when no prudent or feasible alternative to such discharges exists.
  3. Given the sensitive nature of the Great Lakes, the signatory parties advocate development of a national policy to protect water resources that are vulnerable to pollution, so that effluent limits are maintained even if the receiving water body meets or exceeds water quality standards. Therefore, the signatory States direct their environmental administrators to work with the federal government toward attainment of this goal.


The relapse of toxic substances into the Great Lakes environment through air, surface water and groundwater routes is an undesirable practice. Until such time as completely closed systems are technologically feasible for all manufacturing processes and treatment systems, the relapse of some process materials will continue. Control of releases from such sources to ensure that they have minimal impact on environmental quality and human health is a responsibility shared by regulatory agencies and the discharger. The permitting process is the best means now available to regulatory agencies for controlling these releases.

The signatory parties agree that discharges, emissions or releases of toxic substances will be controlled by a regulatory permit process in order to reduce or eliminate the negative effects of toxics on human health and the environment.


  1. The signatory parties direct their environmental administrators to jointly develop an agreement by September 1, 1986, for coordinating the control of toxic releases and achieving greater uniformity of regulations governing such releases within the Great Lakes Basin, based on the following principles:
    1. Known point discharges or emissions of toxic substances that can negatively affect the Great Lakes should be controlled by a regulatory permit process;
    2. The Basin States should ensure that in their search to understand and control the effects of cumulative discharges they do not violate those environmental or health related standards established for specific media;
    3. Full control of toxic discharges requires that the permitting of toxic substances releases to surface water, groundwater and air be better integrated;
    4. Biomonitoring should be an integral part of the permitting process. This is because biomonitoring allows natural resource managers to measure the total impact of a discharge on the environment, rather than the impact of the sum of individual chemicals;
    5. Coordinated groundwater management programs will be developed and implemented. They will include initiatives to prevent groundwater contamination from occurring within sensitive areas adjacent to the Great Lakes and its tributaries. Long-term protection of the groundwater resources in these areas is important to ensure that migration of polluted groundwater to the Great Lakes or across state boundaries does not occur;
    6. The Basin States agree to work toward establishing rules or permits for existing sources requiring controls and to carry out the evaluations needed to better understand the impacts of toxic air emissions on the Great Lakes.

Hazardous Waste Management

The signatory States agree that the management of hazardous waste is an issue of Basin-wide concern and that adoption of principles of wise management by the Great Lakes States should be a regional goal. The States recognize that the most economical and effective way to reduce the adverse effects of toxic chemicals is to eliminate their entrance into the environment at the point that they are produced or used.


  1. The environmental administrators shall consider the following source reduction options:
    1. Development of incentives for new manufacturing processes that element or lessen the use or discharge of toxic substances
    2. Assisting businesses in the development of alternative technologies.
  2. In situations where source reduction may not be feasible, the region's environmental administrators shall pursue the following goals for the treatment of hazardous waste:
    1. Recycling or reuse of waste;
    2. Development of new environmentally sound methods, processes and facilities for waste disposal as alternatives to those for land disposal;
    3. Development of environmentally sound on-site disposal and destruction technology to eliminate, where possible, the transporting of hazardous waste;
    4. Safe disposal of residual waste which remains after reduction, recycling or reuse.
  3. Recognizing the need of each State to choose the option best suited to its situation, each signatory State agrees to pursue programs aimed at hazardous waste reduction, proper disposal of household hazardous waste, proper management of solid waste, recycling, reuse and other forms of environmentally sound treatment.
  4. In addition, the environmental administrators of the Great Lakes States are directed to explore the potential advantages of, and possibilities for, interstate cooperation in hazardous waste management planning. The environmental administrators will report to the Governors on recommendations for interstate cooperative actions by January 31, 1987.

Basin-wide Notice of Discharge Permits

The signatory States agree that:

  1. When considering a permit for a discharge or a new water quality standard that may significantly affect air or water resources, each jurisdiction shall share this information, as requested, with other Great Lakes States that may be affected. In deciding what type of information may be of use or interest to other jurisdictions, the jurisdiction issuing the permit or standard shall consider such factors as distances and pollutant transport mechanisms involved; whether the toxic substance to be discharged is on the International Joint Commission's Great Lakes Water Quality Board's list of critical pollutants; whether it presents a health threat to human or aquatic life; whether it will have a cumulative effect on a body of water; and whether the substance is of historic concern to one or several of the Great Lakes States.
  2. Each signatory State will develop an initial list of permit or standard information it is most interested in receiving and forward the list to the other signatory parties by September 1, 1986.

Accidental Discharge of Pollutants

The signatory States agree that:

  1. If an accidental discharge of pollutants significantly affects shared air or water resources, the jurisdiction that first discovers the discharge shall notify all other affected jurisdictions immediately. If there is reason to believe that the discharge may affect public health, the emergency response authorities of all affected jurisdictions, as well as the federal emergency response authorities, shall be notified immediately.
  2. Upon request of an affected jurisdiction, a consultation meeting of all affected parties shall take place. This initial consultation will include the exchange of all pertinent information regarding the discharge and its potential effects. The signatory parties agree to consult with one another regarding clean-up plans, potential adverse effects of the discharge, and other relevant issues until satisfactory remedial action has been completed. The consultation process is intended to aid, not create an obstacle to, necessary emergency clean-up activities initiated by any State.
  3. Each of the signatory States shall forward to the other signatory parties by September 1, 1986, the 24-hour telephone number of the emergency response unit to be contacted when such an accidental discharge occurs.

Atmospheric Deposition

Toxic contaminants enter the Great Lakes Basin from a wide variety of sources including industrial discharges, non-point sources and atmospheric deposition. It is acknowledged that the atmosphere is a significant source of the total balance of pollutants entering the Great Lakes system. However, in many cases additional research is needed to quantify sources of toxic substances transported through the atmosphere.


  1. The signatory States agree to cooperate in quantifying toxic substances loadings originating from all sources, with the purpose of developing the most environmentally and economically sound control programs.
  2. The signatory States agree to consider the effects of airborne pollutants on human health and aquatic life when setting air emission standards and granting air emission permits, and to better integrate their respective air and water programs to address atmospheric deposition affecting the lakes.
  3. The signatory States endorse the work of the atmospheric component of the Great Lakes International Surveillance Plan and its increased focus on monitoring toxic substances.

Monitoring and Surveillance

Monitoring and surveillance activities are fundamental to identifying areas of toxic contamination as well as to determining the effectiveness of existing pollution control programs. The Great Lakes International Surveillance Plan (GLISP) was established during the 1970s as a framework for monitoring compliance with the objectives of the United States-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. In the spring of 1983, the International Joint Commission established seven Lake and Connecting Channels Task Forces under the surveillance work group. These Task Forces are charged with developing plans to coordinate water quality data and to ensure its compatibility.


  1. The signatory parties agree to commit their environmental agencies to participating in this process.
  2. The signatory parties agree to develop mass loadings data through their respective monitoring programs and to provide this data to the International Joint Commission.
  3. In the Spring of 1986, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, working with the States of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, completed a "Lake Michigan Toxics Control Strategy". This document focuses existing resources on specific areas of concern, and identifies specific actions for each State to take toward controlling toxic contaminants.

    The Governors recognize the benefits of such coordinated efforts and cite this process as a model to be considered for Basin-wide use.

    In addition, the signatory States agree to the following cooperative initiatives to improve the region's monitoring programs and preserve the ecosystem.:

    1. The Governors charge their environmental administrators with studying specimen-banking programs in the Great Lakes Basin and recommending steps that can be taken to improve them. The recommendations of the administrators shall be submitted by September 1, 1986. Development of a regional program for the banking and preservation of flesh specimens from fish, birds and other wildlife would provide continuity in data comparisons by allowing analysts to compare older samples to newer ones.
    2. Each State, in coordination with local governments, should sample water intakes or initiate some other sampling program that provides water column quality trend analysis. This information will augment the region's data base on toxic substances.
    3. The signatory parties agree to work in cooperation with the federal government toward the development of Basin-wide fish and aquatic bird monitoring programs as indicators of water quality.
    4. Green Bay and Saginaw Bay have been chosen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as areas in which to test a modeling approach that will identify and quantify sources of pollutants entering these systems and analyze their effects. Pilot projects such as these should be encouraged. Similar projects should be considered for the treatment of contaminated sediments. Sharing the lessons learned from such projects can facilitate the development of effective future cleanup initiatives, and proper Great Lakes modeling.
    5. The signatory States agree to support the International Joint Commission's Water Quality Board in the development of a system of waste water discharge quality benchmarks. This system would help facilitate, among the Great Lakes States, a common determination of levels of toxicity from specific point sources. Benchmark criteria would be developed for concentrations or loadings or both, related to the discharge of specific contaminants in the effluents of point sources in the Great Lakes Basin. The benchmarks should reflect a movement toward the goal of virtual elimination of the discharge of persistent toxic substances.

Information Exchange

The signatory Governors recognize that the Great Lakes States are involved in many common endeavors and that each jurisdiction could benefit from the experiences of its Basin neighbors. Many of the techniques used for identifying and controlling toxic contaminants are still in their infancy. It is to the benefit of the entire region to share experiences with these techniques.


  1. The signatory parties agree that information exchanges, which will include hands-on workshops for technical personnel, shall take place on a regular basis. These exchanges will include discussions of procedures such as:
    1. Permitting;
    2. Toxicity testing, such as biomonitoring;
    3. General monitoring techniques;
    4. Standards setting;
    5. Management of contaminated sediments; and
    6. Risk assessment.
  2. The Governors charge their environmental administrators with initiating such exchanges by developing a preliminary schedule of workshops to be held in furtherance of the goal of improving environmental management techniques. An initial schedule will be prepared by September 1, 1986.

Fish Consumption Advisories

With improved technology and analytical sensitivity, it is now possible to detect the presence of small quantities of environmental contaminants. Contaminants in fish are of particular interest because fish constitute a major pathway of toxic exposure to humans and are good indicators of changes in the aquatic ecosystem. A number of States surrounding the Great Lakes have fish monitoring programs. However, a long interval often elapses before one State's findings are made available to neighboring States. A prompt exchange of this information would supplement the findings of each jurisdiction and aid those who make policy decisions.

In pursuit of this goal, in March of 1985 the States of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin agreed to forward their data on fish contamination in Lake Michigan semiannually to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. They also agreed to meet annually to assess their combined databases, exchange technical information and, to the extent possible, prepare consistent fish consumption advisories. In the fall of 1985, a series of discussions were initiated to expand this process to include the eight Great Lakes States.


  1. The signatory States agree to charge their representatives with reaching an agreement for each of the lakes on common fish advisories, such agreement to be in place by the 1987 fishing season.
  2. The signatory States agree to cooperate in other Basin-wide initiatives, such as the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's Fish Community Health Task Force. This United States-Canadian group is working on a manual to help standardize sampling procedures and fish tumor identification.

Human Exposure and Health Effects Assessment

One means of assessing the chronic and carcinogenic effects of toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes Basin is to evaluate the incidence of cancer and other chronic diseases among the population residing and working in the region. The registration of newly diagnosed cases of chronic disease in infants, children, and adults is an important first step toward establishment of a data base from which trends can be identified. A complete review of health effects in the Great Lakes Basin is dependent upon the accuracy of these registrations as well as the compatibility of registries among jurisdictions within the Basin. Some jurisdictions in the Great Lakes Basin have health effects or occupational health registries in place; others have yet to initiate such programs. For those that do have registries, the information collected may vary from program to program.


  1. The signatory States, recognizing the importance of compatible health effects registries, charge the health administrators of their respective jurisdictions with studying the status of health effects registries in the Great Lakes Region and recommending additional initiatives that should be taken in this area. The health administrators of the Great Lakes Basin should work in coordination with the administrators of national health effects programs. Their report shall be submitted to the signatory parties by November 28, 1986.

Great Lakes Water Quality Fund

The Great Lakes Governors have long been committed to providing an adequate and sustained level of financial resources to achieve enhanced Great Lakes water quality such as is called for in the United States-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Governors reaffirm that there is a need for significant resources to augment current state and federal commitments, as well as to provide a stable funding source for significant resources to augment current state and federal commitments, as well as to provide a stable funding source for long-term monitoring and research and to provide for a shared resource pool to fund activities that may not clearly be state or federal responsibilities.


1. The Governors commit to examining alternative long-term funding sources that will permit continued progress toward a healthier Great Lakes ecosystem. The Center for the Great Lakes has agreed to assist the signatory parties by conducting a feasibility study on the creation of a regional, long-term funding mechanism. The Center will report back to the signatory parties on the goals and objectives, fundable activities, sources of revenue and management structure necessary for such a fund. A preliminary report will be submitted by December 31, 1986.

Public Involvement

The signatory States agree that a program of public outreach is an important component in the control of toxic contaminants in the Great Lakes.


  1. Each jurisdiction will ensure citizen involvement in the implementation of this agreement by providing for or using existing forums, such as advisory and technical committees, public hearings and/or workshops. The views expressed through such forums will be considered during the annual review of this agreement. Further, each jurisdiction will provide its citizens with opportunities to take an active role in Great Lakes cleanup activities.
  2. The signatory States also support an increased emphasis on environmental awareness in the educational curriculum of their schools, and recognize the important role that the Sea Grant program plays in public education.

Oversight and Implementation

The signatory States commit to the coordinated implementation of this agreement. To this end, the Governors shall, no less than once per year, review progress toward implementation of this agreement and advise one another and the public on actions taken to carry out the principle of the agreement, together with recommendations for further action.

The following specific actions shall be taken:

  1. The environmental administrators of the States signatory to this agreement will meet annually to review the progress made toward implementing this agreement. Their initial report will be submitted to the Governors by May 31, 1987.
  2. As part of its role in implementing this agreement, each jurisdiction will develop a management plan appropriate to its own political and regulatory system. The environmental administrators will review these plans and integrate their comments into their annual review of this agreement.

Signed and entered into the 21st of May 1986.

James R. Thompson, Illinois

James J. Blanchard, Michigan

Robert D. Orr, Indiana

Mario M. Cuomo, New York

Richard F. Celeste, Ohio

Anthony S. Earl, Wisconsin

Rudy Perpich, Minnesota

Dick Thornburgh, Pennsylvania