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GEO-6 Regional Assessment for North America


Microbeads in personal care products are designed to be flushed down drains, ultimately ending up in both freshwater and marine environments and in biota. Much of the focus has been on their presence and effects in marine systems, while information about the fate of both macro- and microplastics in freshwater is still scarce (Eerkes-Medrano et al. 2015). While the specific effects on water quality, biota, and human health remain unclear, the presence of microplastics has been documented in a variety of North American lakes and rivers and they may have the potential to affect invertebrates and fish (Eerkes-Medrano et al. 2015; Eriksen et al. 2013).


Nanomaterials or nanoparticles (<100nm) are another group of emerging contaminants, covering a variety of substances including organic carbon nanotubes and inorganic nanosilver materials, as well as nanoplastics (Bernhardt et al. 2010). These materials are used in cosmetics, electronics, drug delivery, manufacturing, paints and other products. They are released into the environment through runoff and sewage effluent and accumulate in depositional environments, including freshwater and coastal areas. The vast number of these products and their extremely small size gives them distinctive properties but also makes understanding their impacts on the environment and human health a major


challenge (Schaumann et al. 2015; Canadian Council of Academies 2008).


Although the subject of an increasing body of scientific and popular literature, contaminants of emerging concern remain a challenge to regulate due in part to their diversity and quantity, the complexity in monitoring them, the lack of standard products against which to compare them, and uncertainty regarding their impacts on ecosystems and human health. Some monitoring issues might be addressed through the identification of indicator contaminants (Metcalfe 2013).


2.6.3 Risks from extraction and transport of coal, oil, and gas


Every year, the US’s coal power plants produce 140 million tonnes of coal ash pollution, the toxic by-product that is left over after coal is burned and results from scrubbing the emissions before they are released into the atmosphere. The ash is typically placed near power plants across the nation— into open-air pits and surface-waste ponds. According to experts, many of these sites lack adequate safeguards, leaving nearby communities at risk from potentially large-


Box 2.6.1: Experimental Lakes Area


Comprised of 58 small lakes and their watersheds, in a sparsely populated region of northwestern Ontario, Canada, the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is an exceptional natural laboratory for the study of whole freshwater ecosystems. By introducing and monitoring specific chemicals or physical changes, scientists are able to examine how all aspects of the ecosystem, from the atmosphere to fish populations, respond. This provides real-world, science-based evidence to guide science policy decisions (Norman et al. 2015, Kidd et al. 2014; Cheng et al. 2012; Schindler 2012).


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© Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA)


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