Halloween is the night we embrace our fears. We celebrate what scares us. We share stories, thrills, chills, and mysteries and let our imaginations run wild.
What better time to examine Lake Ontario’s scary side, to examine the stories and myths we tell each other about the most-threatened of our Great Lakes?
Myth: You can’t swim in Lake Ontario.
Lake Ontario is swimmable – most of the time. Pollutants wash into the lake via storm runoff or sewage bypasses. This week, remnants of Hurricane Patricia flooded Southern Ontario. Some areas saw up to 55 mm of rain flooding infrastructure. In Toronto alone, Ashbridges Bay wastewater facility bypassed for over 15 hours. Humber Bay facility bypassed for 12 hours. Yep, that’s scary.
What’s important to remember is that it takes at least 48 hours for bacteria to die. Hence, the “48 hour rule.” Which is why it’s important for the public to have better access to water quality information. Like the weather, water quality has good days and bad days.
Fact: There is an estimated 3% - 8% risk of getting sick after swimming in a natural water source.
Myth: You are swimming in poopy waters.
Floatables and solids are a legitimate concern after a sewage bypass. While there are methods to remove these items from the water, this only emphasizes the need for more water quality notifications when sewage bypasses and wet weather occur as well as beach cleanups. Items that have been found include condoms, plastic tampon applicators and hypodermic needles.
Myth: You can’t drink Lake Ontario water.
Lake Ontario is a source of drinking water for 9 million people. That said, all pollution affects Lake Ontario. Everything that goes in the lake must be filtered out before water is suitable for consumption. City filtration plants remove most contaminants from the water before it reaches your tap and use chlorine to eliminate bacteria. While Waterkeeper promotes the consumption of tap water, chemicals discharged into the lake with our sewage is a growing concern.
Fact: A recent McGill study found traces of cocaine and other illicit and prescription drugs in tap water.
Myth: You can’t eat Lake Ontario’s fish.
There are a few myths surrounding Ontario’s fish. As far as consumption goes, like a lot of fish sourced from different parts of the world, Lake Ontario’s fish are okay to eat in moderation. The Ontario government does a great job at providing detailed information on Ontario’s fish. If you’re ever curious about your catch and what contaminants it may contain, use their Guide to Eating Ontario Fish (or try the interactive version).
Fact: The biggest concerns surrounding fish consumption in Lake Ontario are mercury and PCB levels – both of which are said to be decreasing.
Like the best scary stories, there is a little bit of truth in all myths. You do need to think about pollution in Lake Ontario. You do need to use caution when you’re near the water. But the same is true for everything. You need to look both ways before you cross the street. You need to limit the number of yummy chocolate bars you scarf down on Halloween.
There is scary stuff out there, but there is also adventure. And friendship. And many, many wonderful stories and memories to be made.