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Great Lakes


U.S. EPA RAP Liaison
John Perrecone

State RAP Contact
Lori Boughton
Director, Office of the Great Lakes
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
301 Peninsula Drive, Suite 4
Erie, PA 16505

Presque Isle Bay Area of Concern

Lake Erie

February 2013 - The Presque Isle Bay Area of Concern has been taken off the list of the most polluted places around the Great Lakes. The decision was made by the U.S. Department of State in consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International Joint Commission and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania after reviewing the success of various cleanup activities in the bay.

Removing Presque Isle Bay from the AOC list does not mean that the bay is completely clean or that work will stop.  EPA will continue to collaborate with Pennsylvania and the community to monitor and improve water quality in the bay after the formal delisting process.   The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will evaluate the levels of fish tumors and the sediment quality objectives related to the delisting and ecosystem health targets in their approved Remedial Action Plan.  Some external tumors will be seen on fish caught near Presque Isle.  Should the incidence of external tumors increase in ways that cause concern, agencies can consider further action using the existing statutory and regulatory authorities. 


In January 1991, Presque Isle Bay was designated as the 43rd AOC by the State Department in response to concerns raised by the local community.  Waste disposal practices before state and federal regulatory programs were established had resulted in the discharge of industrial and domestic wastewater into the bay or to its streams and tributaries. This contaminated the bay with pollutants including excessive nutrients, organic compounds and heavy metals. 

The city of Erie made changes to its wastewater collection, conveyance and treatment system that reduced sewer overflow and stormwater runoff into the bay. Over time, the city’s waterfront became more commercial and less industrial.  In 2002, improvements in the health of the local fish population and natural sediment led to the bay being designated as an AOC in the recovery stage.  

Through the Remedial Action Plan process, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Presque Isle Bay Public Advisory Committee identified two major impairments in the bay: Fish tumors or other deformities, and restrictions on dredging. An evaluation identified two main pollutants in the sediment – heavy metals such as nickel, lead and cadmium, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. Fish tumors and other deformities were believed to be related to the sediment contamination. 

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Recent progress and achievements


Sediment in the bay now contains relatively low levels of PAHs and fewer heavy metals. Generally, the concentrations of contaminants were found to be uniform throughout the bay and no specific hot spots were defined. After comprehensive review, EPA and Pennsylvania removed the dredging restrictions impairment in 2007.


Over the last 20 years, federal, state and local agencies examined the fish population of Presque Isle Bay, in particular the native brown bullhead catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus). The bay’s bullheads were checked for liver tumors and external growths and deformities. Subsamples of these fish were autopsied and tissue was examined for the presence of tumors. 

While the rate of external growths remains a problem throughout Lake Erie, the rates of fish liver tumors in the bay declined to the point where they are the same as the least impacted reference site in the Lake.  For this reason, the fish tumor impairment was removed.

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RAP Development and ActionsMore information

The Stage 1 RAP, completed in 1993, evaluated information from an ecosystem study and identified two beneficial use impairments. The RAP also provided the framework for prioritized ecosystem restoration and management activities to be conducted, coordinated, or sponsored by the PADEP.

The 1995 RAP Update provided revisions and new information to supplement the Stage 1 RAP. It also responded to comments on the RAP received from the International Joint Commission and USEPA.

The 2002 RAP Update recommended that the Presque Isle Bay Area of Concern be designated in the Recovery Stage. This document summarizes the results of studies on the two beneficial use impairments and the work done by numerous organizations in the Bay and its watershed that led to the recommendation for a change in designation.

The Stage 3 RAP was completed in 2012 and the AOC was delisted in 2013.

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RAP Actions

  • 2012 - 2013: Stage 3 RAP completed and AOC delisted.
  • 2002: Presque Isle Bay becomes the first U.S. AOC to achieve the Recovery Stage designation.
  • 2002: Presque Isle Bay Remedial Action Plan Update (PDF) (96pp, 10.38MB) completed.
  • 1995: Presque Isle Bay Remedial Action Plan Update (PDF) (54pp, 2.41MB) completed.
  • 1992: Presque Isle Bay Remedial Action Plan (PDF) (348pp, 11.57MB) completed.
  • 1991: Presque Isle Bay is listed as an AOC. The Presque Isle Bay Public Advisory Committee was established.
  • 1989: The City of Erie Exit EPA Disclaimerentered into a Consent Decree with PADEP to upgrade its wastewater treatment, collection, and conveyance system including the elimination of Combined Sewer Overflows in the City’s system.
  • 1984: Fishermen report strange growths on Presque Isle Bay brown bullheads to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Community Involvement

The Presque Isle Bay Public Advisory Committee (PAC) provided advice to PADEP in developing a Remedial Action Plan to restore beneficial uses in the Bay. As a community partnership, the PAC’s mission is to enhance and protect the environmental quality and economic vitality of the Bay and its watershed. Members represent all sectors of the community, including local, state and federal agencies, environmental and civic organizations, academia and industry.


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What is a beneficial use impairment?

Impairment of beneficial use is a change in the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of the Great Lakes system sufficient to cause any of the following 14 use impairments:

  • restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  • tainted fish and wildlife flavor
  • loss of fish or wildlife habitat
  • degraded fish and wildlife populations
  • fish tumors or other deformities
  • bird or animal deformities or reproductive problems
  • degradation of benthic macroinvertebrate communities
  • restrictions on dredging activities
  • eutrophication or undesirable algae
  • restrictions on drinking water consumption or taste and odor problems
  • beach closings
  • degradation of aesthetics
  • added costs to agriculture and industry
  • degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton

What is a remedial action plan?

The remedial action plan, or RAP, is a process to clean up the waterfront, rivers, habitats and waters. The United States and Canada, as part of the Great Lake Water Quality Agreement, committed to cooperate with State and Provincial Governments to ensure that RAPs are developed and implemented for all Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. Forty-three AOCs have been identified: 26 located entirely within the United States; 12 located entirely within Canada; and five that are shared by both countries. RAPs address impairments to any one of 14 beneficial uses (e.g., restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption, dredging activities, or drinking water consumption) associated with these areas.

What is a delisting target?

In order to move towards formal delisting, RAPs need delisting targets to gauge their success:

  • Delisting targets should be premised on local goals and related environmental objectives for the watershed; they should be consistent with the applicable federal and state regulations, objectives, guidelines, standards and policies, when available, and the principles and objectives embodied in Annex 2 and supporting parts of the GLWQA.
  • Delisting targets should have measurable indicators.
  • Delisting targets should be developed and periodically reviewed on a site specific basis (allowing for flexibility in addressing local conditions) by the respective state agencies, in consultation with local stakeholder groups. This is particularly important if new information becomes available.

More information about the delisting process>>

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