Press release

In Our Water? Flame Retardants, Anti-Microbial Nanosilvers and Synthetic Estrogen: Experimental Lakes Area wraps first research season under new management

What’s in our lake water? As we learned this year, increasingly the answer includes flame retardants and anti-microbial nanosilvers from our clothes and baby products, synthetic estrogen and other hormones from flushed pharmaceuticals, and mercury from coal plants. 

November 19, 2014


OTTAWA & WINNIPEG – November 20, 2014 – What’s in our lake water? As we learned this year, increasingly the answer includes flame retardants and anti-microbial nanosilvers from our clothes and baby products, synthetic estrogen and other hormones from flushed pharmaceuticals, and mercury from coal plants. 

We know more about this chemical soup because the scientists at Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA) this week wrapped up their first season of research under new management. This natural laboratory comprised of 58 small lakes and their watershed near Kenora, Ontario has provided unique environmental research and results for more than 40 years, but this year’s season almost didn’t happen.

The scientists at the Experimental Lakes Area kept their research equipment in the lakes and labs and out of mothballs this year after its federal funding was eliminated in 2012. Thanks to a five-year agreement brokered by the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD),and the province of Ontario, the 2014 research season took place with important new findings.  

“Research on our fresh water matters. The research conducted by IISD-ELA scientists is critical to understanding the impact that our clothes, medicines, household products and manufacturing practices have on our lakes and rivers and ecosystems,” said Scott Vaughan, President and CEO of IISD. “IISD-ELA is committed to supporting our scientists as they speak out about the results of our world-class research, in order to drive better policies for the environment”.

“This year, the world learned from research at IISD-ELA that contamination from spent pharmaceuticals flushed into our waterways contains endocrine disputers, causing extremely harmful effects on fresh water lakes’ wildlife,” said Matt McCandless, Executive Director of IISD-ELA. “When IISD-ELA conducted experiments with synthetic estrogen, we were shocked at the rapid rate in which fatheaded minnows were dying, in addition to male fish developing eggs. It was alarming, and could have significant effects on our lakes and aquatic life.”

In 2014, researchers launched a new experiment, adding nanosilver, tiny particles that have anti-microbial properties, to an IISD-ELA lake. Nanosilver is being added to an increasing number of consumer products, ranging from clothing like work-out gear to reduce odours, and baby products. The study will provide information on how nanosilvers behave when they enter our waterways.

The importance of the research at the facility has long been recognized beyond Canada. In October 2014, IISD signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chao Lake Management Administration (CLMA) to improve the health of China’s Chao Lake – one of the country’s five largest freshwater lakes. From the impacts on our lakes of acid rain and mercury from coal factories, to phosphates in detergents, IISD-ELA’s research has triggered policy makers to rewrite laws to improve pollution levels. 

“With the continued operation of the ELA, its scientists, university researchers, high school students and experts from across Canada and around the world have access to an important and unique fresh water research facility right here in Ontario,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.  “The province of Ontario is proud to work with the IISD and province of Manitoba to fund ELA operations over the next five years. For the sake of our fresh water, we can’t afford not to.”

Over the winter months, IISD-ELA will continue indoor, laboratory research and experiments throughout the winter at the research facility located in Kenora, Ontario, and will reopen in the spring of 2015.


IISD-Experimental Lakes Area is one of the world’s most influential freshwater research facilities. It features a collection of 58 small lakes and their watersheds in Northwestern Ontario, Canada, as well as a facility with accommodations and laboratories for up to 60 personnel. By manipulating these small lakes, scientists are able to examine how all aspects of the ecosystem—from the atmosphere to fish populations—respond.  In April 2014, along with funding from the province of Manitoba, IISD, the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada signed three agreements to ensure the facility's long-term operation. Follow the IISD-ELA on Twitter @IISD_ELA. Donate at

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For more information or to speak with an IISD-ELA expert, contact:

Sumeep Bath, Media and Communications Officer


T: +1 (204) 958-7740

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.

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