Myths & Facts

Since the announcement of the closure of the ELA, we have heard a number of untruths that are given as reasons for the closure of the ELA. If you hear these myths repeated, here are the facts to refute these falsehoods.

1. The Government of Canada contends that: ELA was no longer scientifically productive, and so should be cut.

Fact: ELA’s work continues to be critically important to the development of sound environmental policy. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency has recently relied on the METAALICUS (Mercury Experiment to Assess Atmospheric Loading in the United States and Canada) experiment to implement new rules limiting the emissions of mercury from US coal-fired power plants.

ELA’s continued relevance and productivity was recently highlighted in an editorial in Science magazine.

One popular measure of science productivity is provided by Discover Magazine’s top 100 science news stories each year.  In 2007 & 2008, research at ELA made the top 100 list. No other freshwater research from anywhere in the world was cited in this list.

Another measure of ELA’s scientific productivity is that ELA scientists continue to publish in scientific journals at approximately the same rate as since ELA’s inception in 1968. The following graphic illustrates ELA’s continued productivity:

The Web of Science Citation Index measures the quality of papers published in scientific journals. Since 2006, 14 papers authored by Fisheries & Oceans Canada have received more than 80 citations in the scientific literature by other scientists.  Three of these papers were from the ELA group (the Endocrine Disruption study, the Lake 227 eutrophication study, and METAALICUS mercury study).  The most cited paper on the list was the Endocrine Disruption paper, which had 50 more citations than the next closest paper. All three of these papers were published in the influential journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

2. The Government of Canada contends that: Closing the ELA will result in a $1.3M saving by eliminating its operating budget.

Fact: We do not dispute the small cost savings of closing the ELA, but over the past decades, this small federal investment has been returned thousands of times over by increasing savings in public and ecosystem health. In fact the ELA closing is not about saving money to reduce the deficit. This is a red herring.

Instead the closing of the ELA is part of a larger, short-sighted trend to limit government science. For example, in addition to closing ELA, the Office of the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister has been terminated, funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences will end, Environment Canada will terminate its Adaptation to Climate change Research Group, the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research laboratory will be closed, as will the Yukon Research Laboratory. In addition, seventy-five scientists from the Fisheries & Oceans marine toxicology program will be terminated.

The cost savings of closing ELA are paltry. The real cost numbers are as follows:

  • The operating budget of ELA is about $650k/year (monies provided by Fisheries & Oceans Canada and Environment Canada).
  • Research salaries are in the range of $1.5-2M/year. For many years now, much of the cost of actually running the whole ecosystem experiments has come from Canadian industry and universities, US agencies and US industry.
  • Grants from these partners listed above (amounting to many millions of dollars) greatly offset the costs to the government of ELA research ensuring maximum cost efficiency.

A recent statement from government MPs is that costs at the ELA have continued to grow in recent years. In fact, operating budgets at the ELA have remained static since 1990, and so funding has actually declined since then due to inflation.

3. The Government of Canada’s message is that: ELA is not unique and that there is comparable whole lake research being done elsewhere in Canada.

Fact: This is simply untrue. There is no facility comparable to the ELA in Canada or anywhere else in the world. A statement verified through an open letter to Ottawa from 8 leading scientists upon hearing of the closing of the ELA.

4. The Government of Canada’s message is that: ELA scientists should not be polluting ELA lakes or killing fish by deliberately adding toxic chemicals to experimental lakes and their watersheds.

Fact: Two specific complaints have recently been voiced by government Members of Parliament.

First, that experiments to understand acidification of lakes during the 1980’s killed fish in one ELA lake. This is correct. However this study and others at the ELA were instrumental in institution government policies in Canada and the United States that limited atmospheric emissions of acid by industries. As result, fish populations in thousands of lakes were saved. Recovery of the experimentally acidified lakes was studied for more than a decade after experimental additions of acid were stopped during which natural processes got rid of the acid and fish populations recovered.

Second, that the METAALICUS mercury addition experiment is polluting an ELA lake. The experiment is now in its recovery phase. Mercury additions to the lake have stopped. Mercury concentrations in the lake water and fish are now returning to pre-experimental values. The lake should be followed until this recovery is complete. The Government of Canada should show its concern for the mercury pollution of thousands of Canadian lakes by following the lead of the US Environmental Protection Agency and use the results of its own ELA-based research from the METAALICUS experiment, to introduce controls on mercury emissions from Canadian coal-fired power plants.

The ELA is bound by a joint federal/provincial agreement with the Government of Ontario to restore any damage done to lake ecosystems after each experiment has been completed Since its inception in 1968, the ELA has conducted numerous whole-ecosystem manipulation experiments. To our knowledge all of these lakes have been completely rehabilitated after the experiments have been completed. This will also be the case for the METAALICUS experiment.

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