Jump to main content.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

United States Great Lakes Program Report on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Navigational Links

View the Report
[PDF 2.7Mb, 69 pages]

exit EPA (About PDF)

Back to Index


Environmental protection and natural resource agencies are working together in pursuit of the common goals of reducing the levels of toxic contaminants in the environment, protecting and restoring vital habitats, and protecting the health of the ecosystem's living resources. These goals drive the majority of actions highlighted in this report.


Reducing the levels of toxic contamination in the Great Lakes environment and in its inhabitants is one of the major goals of the Great Lakes Program. Tools available to address this issue range from traditional "end-of-pipe" treatment technologies to innovative pollution prevention projects and unique partnerships amongst a variety of stakeholders.

Pollution Prevention

The Great Lakes is acting as a proving ground for innovative pollution prevention efforts. Prevention is the preferred means to avert the generation of harmful substances and thereby to reduce their release to the environment; it heads off ecological damage and saves resources otherwise needed to treat or clean up contaminants. EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a database which provides information to the public about releases, waste management, and waste transfers of toxic chemicals from certain manufacturing facilities into the environment and provides one method of measuring the effectiveness of pollution prevention efforts. The 1993 program data (released in 1995) illustrated that all of the Great Lakes Basin States and Counties had shown a decrease in releases of targeted chemicals between 1988 and 1993.

Some notable pollution prevention successes follow.

Figure 7: Reductions in Releases and Transfers of TRI Chemicals

Figure 8: Reduction in Releases and Transfers of 33/50 Chemicals

EPA's 33/50 Program was a nationwide voluntary effort aimed at reducing the releases and transfers of 17 targeted chemicals (including PCBs, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals and organics) tracked under TRI, with a goal of a 50 percent reduction of these chemicals by the end of 1995. The program successfully achieved this goal on a nationwide basis, exhibiting a 55.6 percent decrease from the 1988 base year, which is equivalent to a reduction of over 664 million pounds of the targeted chemicals. In three areas of the Great Lakes Basin, (Southeast Chicago, Northwest Indiana, and Southeast Michigan), an average reduction of 62 percent was achieved.

For the last several years, EPA has incorporated pollution prevention training at pretreatment workshops for Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs), to enable them to meet their water quality goals. Recent efforts include participating in the development of the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District's March 1997 manual entitled Blueprint for Mercury Elimination: Guidance for Wastewater Treatment Plants, as well as its distribution to POTWs throughout the region. Using methods outlined in the manual, the District's mercury discharge had decreased by over 90 percent by February 1996. Improvements in the sorting of refuse-derived fuel burned at the facility's sludge incinerator have also brought about almost a 70 percent reduction in the amount of mercury emitted.

The Pulp and Paper Pollution Prevention Project, a voluntary partnership launched in 1996 between the industry and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), is committed to go beyond efforts that already have resulted in dramatic reductions in waste generation. Fifteen mills, which account for about 75 percent of the total pulp and paper production in Michigan, showed that while production increased by 33 percent between 1987 and 1995, hazardous waste generation was reduced by 54 percent, air emissions were reduced by 21 percent, and water discharges were down 38 percent. During 1997, the mills have agreed to implement industry-wide pollution reduction goals to be achieved through pollution prevention efforts. For the first year of this project, mills are committing to reduce carbon monoxide by 1,900 tons, biochemical oxygen demand discharges by 50 tons, and hazardous waste generation by 9 tons.

The Council of Great Lakes Governors, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Printing Industries of America spearheaded an effort to identify pollution prevention opportunities for the lithographic printing industry in the Great Lakes Basin. The Great Printers Project brought together representatives of government, industry, technical assistance programs, labor, and environmental groups to focus on the common goals of environmental protection and economic strength. The States of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are currently conducting projects to implement project recommendations.

The goal of the Great Lakes Alternative Cleaning Education Program was to demonstrate the commercial viability of a water-based cleaning technique as an alternative to traditional dry cleaning that relies on chlorinated solvents. This was accomplished through the operation of a wet cleaning demonstration shop, which was used to actively promote an industry-wide shift in cleaning techniques.

Waste Water Treatment Plants are reducing mercury
discharges via voluntary pollution prevention programs

Major oil and chemical spills have dramatically
decreased, making cleanups like the one pictured here a rarity

Routine oil and hazardous chemical discharges from both commercial and recreational vessels in the Great Lakes are now at very low levels, and are having a minimal impact on Great Lakes resources. Marine use and transport of oil and chemicals is very tightly controlled by comprehensive and closely comparable U.S. and Canadian regimes in the Great Lakes. Oil spills had declined 61 percent over the period 1990-1994 while over the same period, chemical spills had been almost totally eliminated, decreasing from over 28,500 gallons in 1990 to just 91 gallons in 1994. During 1995 - 1996, no major chemical or oil spills originated from vessels or marine facilities in the Great Lakes (a "major" spill is any spill of more than 10,000 gallons or a chemical spill which presents a substantial threat to public health). Also, in cooperation with State, Provincial, and other Federal authorities (especially Environment Canada and EPA), the two Coast Guards have developed a highly refined, well-exercised, joint response system.

Reissuance of a permit for the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant is a major step in controlling water pollution in southeastern Michigan. The wastewater discharge permit contains new provisions for minimizing toxic pollutants and controlling industrial discharges into Detroit's sewage collection system. The permit also contains new schedules for the reduction of combined sewer overflows to the Rouge River. The Plant has the largest municipal wastewater discharge in Michigan, containing treated sewage and industrial wastewater from about half of the sewered population in the State. This is also one of the largest discharges of treated municipal wastewater in the Great Lakes system, as well as in the United States, and it has significant potential to affect the Detroit River and Lake Erie if not properly controlled.

Focus on Mercury

Mercury contamination is a potential threat to wildlife and human health. It is a potent neurotoxin that can produce irreversible brain damage, resulting in the loss of higher cognitive and motor functions, if ingested at high enough levels. The fetal nervous system is particularly vulnerable. Mercury contamination of aquatic ecosystems has become a problem of national and international concern; currently, consumption advisories for human health have been issued in at least 38 states.

Major reductions have been made in domestic mercury use from 1980 to 1995, with approximately an 82 percent decline due to bans in paint and pesticides, phaseouts in batteries (total phaseout from most types of batteries passed by Congress in May 1996), and reductions in industrial uses. Domestic demand declined from 720 tons in 1990 to 483 tons in 1994, a 33 percent reduction.

Continued effective control of mercury emissions may require a mix of strategies including pollution prevention, materials separation, and conventional regulatory approaches. Pollution prevention would be suitable for those processes or industries where a mercury substitute is demonstrated and available. Material separation is an appropriate approach for processes where mercury-containing products are disposed of by incineration, or where mercury can be reduced in the fuel prior to combustion (e.g., medical waste incineration). Conventional regulatory approaches may be applicable when mercury is emitted to the environment as a result of trace contamination in fossil fuel or other essential feedstock in an industrial process (e.g., smelting). Other non-traditional market-based approaches may also prove feasible.

Federal Actions

EPA has a variety of efforts underway to reduce mercury emissions from industrial sources. Specific actions being taken under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (CAAA) to achieve this include the following:

EPA is studying the impacts of mercury air pollution and will issue a report assessing the impact of air emissions of mercury from a variety of sources. This assessment will include judgments as to the potential hazard to humans and wildlife of methylmercury exposure which is largely via the consumption of contaminated fish.

Figure 9: Mercury in Lake Erie Smelt

EPA is studying the hazards to public health reasonably anticipated to occur as a result of emissions by electric utility steam generating units of pollutants listed under Section 112(b), including mercury. The Utility Study is also required to offer regulatory determination with respect to utility boilers.

EPA is evaluating the impacts of hazardous air emissions, including mercury, for the following source categories: commercial/ industrial boilers, chlor-alkali plants using the mercury cell process, and portland cement kilns.

In 1994, EPA acted on a recommendation from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and asked the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to suspend sales of mercury, pending consideration of environmental consequences. Sales were suspended, and the DLA is conducting an environmental assessment. The Federal government holds about eleven million pounds of surplus mercury which it had been selling at auction. EPA is beginning to explore options for the long-term disposition for the mercury, and is developing an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on options for stabilizing unwanted mercury, and for treating mercury-containing wastes.

EPA is facilitating the development of a mercury thermostat takeback and recycling program for the upper midwest, which could gradually be expanded to other parts of the country.

EPA, the USGS, the four Lake Michigan States, and a number of universities are participating in a multi-agency effort to determine mercury loads to Lake Michigan from tributary streams. This project is part of a larger effort to produce a mercury mass balance for Lake Michigan.

The USGS Wisconsin District Office has a state-of-the-art mercury research laboratory that helps facilitate cooperative projects across the nation dealing with mercury in the environment. Mercury studies require specific sampling methods and gear, as well as low-level analytical methods that the mercury lab supplies to the cooperating parties. In addition, members of the Mercury Studies Program often provide expert consultation with potential project cooperators, including aiding in the drafting of proposals for study. To date, the lab is involved in studies from Alaska to Florida, and from east to the west coasts. Mercury Studies Program leaders are currently drafting work plans to initiate a national-scale effort to examine mercury contamination across a wide variety of ecosystems that receive mercury loads from a variety of sources.

State Actions

The eight Great Lakes States are implementing numerous innovative programs to reduce mercury. The following examples help illustrate this.

The MDEQ continues to place an emphasis on mercury identification, reduction, and pollution prevention programs. The Michigan Mercury Pollution Prevention (M2P2) Task Force report was completed and released in April 1996 and demonstrates what can be achieved by voluntary partnerships with the primary goal of prevention of mercury pollution. The M2P2 Task Force focused on a variety of sectors, including the general public, health care, dental, electrical manufacturers and users, chemical manufacturers and users, and the automobile sector. The utility sector was also identified as a top priority source category to identify opportunities to achieve mercury reductions.

MDEQ developed and widely distributed a "Merc Concern" brochure and other mercury pollution prevention materials for education and outreach to the general public and administered a grant to the Genesee County Environmental Health Department to conduct an education, outreach, and collection program for mercury-containing wastes in the Saginaw Bay watershed. An estimated 200 pounds of mercury was collected for proper management and disposal.

As part of a statewide emphasis on mercury pollution, the MPCA is developing a comprehensive mercury reduction initiative. A stakeholder advisory council has been formed to provide input to the agency concerning mercury reduction alternatives and the criteria that the agency should use to evaluate the alternatives. A "cap-and-trade" alternative is of special interest to participants. Since other States are interested in this program, an "ad hoc" committee of States (including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Maine and others) has met periodically to exchange information.

In 1995 and 1996, the State of Minnesota met with a Minnesota mercury relay manufacturer regarding a collection program for mercury relays. The manufacturer was interested in product stewardship. These discussions led to a State law passed in 1997 that prohibits disposal of mercury relays in the solid waste stream and requires a collection program administered by relay manufacturers. Also, the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program studied the use of mercury dairy manometers in Wabasha County in 1995 which laid the groundwork for a 1997 law prohibiting mercury dairy manometers from being sold, installed, or repaired and requires them to be removed from service. State funding has allowed the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to offer a $100 bounty for each manometer that is recycled. This covers the replacement cost of a basic non-mercury manometer. In addition, the Minnesota law covering the disposal of mercury bearing products was modified in 1995 to require removal of mercury switches from junked vehicles before they are crushed.

Core samples taken from Minnesota lakes shows that the amount of mercury entering into lakes in the northeastern and central portions of the State has declined substantially, indicating that the State's mercury reduction efforts are paying dividends. Regional emissions appear to have declined, with accumulation rates 25 percent lower today than in the 1960s and 1970s. However, no improvement was noted in lakes in western Minnesota and Alaska, suggesting that world background levels of mercury are stable.

The State of Wisconsin piloted a mercury reduction effort with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, continued the implementation of a toxic contaminants reduction/pollution prevention effort in concert with the Milwaukee's Pollution Prevention Partnership, and is undertaking municipal mercury reduction efforts in Green Bay, Superior, and Madison.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has undertaken a project to gain pledges from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning contractors, suppliers, and wholesalers to ensure recycling of mercury thermostats, and to encourage the use of mercury-free thermostats.

Industry Actions

In 1996, the U.S. chlor-alkali sector voluntarily committed to reducing its emissions and use of mercury by 50 percent during the next decade. Emissions are thought to

be relatively high on a per facility basis in the U.S. In Europe, where there are many more facilities, this sector is considered a dominant source of anthropogenic mercury emissions. The commitment by the U.S. chlor-alkali firms is one of the most significant pollution prevention projects underway in the U.S.

The momentum of pollution prevention initiatives within the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has greatly increased. The impetus of the development and implementation of DWSD's PCB/Mercury Minimization Program began with a negotiated National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit provision which required DWSD to develop a minimization program to control PCB and mercury. As part of the effort to reduce/eliminate mercury loadings to the DWSD sewerage collection system, five categories of sources have been targeted for waste minimization efforts: dental offices, hospitals, industrial laundry facilities, laboratories, and households. In January 1995, the DWSD convened a Task Force on Mercury Minimization from Dental Facilities which implemented a highly successful statewide bulk dental mercury collection of over 1,300 pounds of surplus mercury.

The Big Three automakers are actively pursuing ways to voluntarily remove mercury from the automobile production process. As a first step, they are phasing out mercury switches from convenience lighting (accounting for approximately 87 percent of mercury used in autos) and are drafting a switch removal procedure for use at the end-of-life for a vehicle.

Focus on PCBs

PCBs, although banned or tightly restricted in almost all industrial and commercial uses because of their persistence and high toxicity, remain a major cause of contamination in the Great Lakes. All five of the lakes, as well as numerous inland lakes, have fish consumption advisories as a result of PCB contamination. A number of activities are addressing the removal of PCBs from the environment.

EPA has asked Great Lakes utility companies to accelerate their voluntary phasedown of electric equipment which contain PCBs to prevent the possibility of accidental spills. In response, twelve major utility companies reported that they are continuing to remove PCB equipment from service and that they have only about 600 PCB transformers and 40,000 PCB capacitors currently in use within EPA Region 5 States. In addition, recycling of over 12 million pounds of metal from PCB transformers, capacitors, and related components in 1996 saved over 66,500 cubic yards of landfill capacity that would have otherwise been used for the disposal of these PCB-contaminated materials.

In 1997, EPA Region 5 took the first step toward an innovative, public-private partnership when it funded, in part, the feasibility study phase of a PCB Used Oil Clean Sweep project proposed by a national not-for-profit trade association, the National Oil Recyclers Association (NORA). The project consists of the identification of potential PCB generators through a computer database; development and mailing of an information package; telephone follow-up; and analysis of findings. Region 5 will coordinate with EPA Headquarters on regulatory barriers to participation in a clean sweep program and the identification of incentives. Region 5 staff will be addressing NORA's annual conference in November 1997 and will solicit industry input. PCBs are a used oil recycling industry problem of national magnitude. If this project moves forward, Region 5 will serve as the pilot for a national program.

Since the implementation of the PCB Notification and Manifesting Rule in 1990, the amount of PCBs received at storage and disposal facilities have been tracked. From 1990 to 1994, over 7.5 billion pounds of PCBs were disposed of nationally from all sources, lessening the likelihood of further PCB contamination to the environment.

Sediments contaminated with PCBs are being removed from Great Lakes rivers and embayments. Many of these cleanups are highlighted in a later section entitled "Remediating Contaminated Sediments".

Focus on Pesticides

Great Lakes utility companies have voluntarily accelerated the phasing out of PCBs from their equipment

The Great Lakes Program has implemented a multi-faceted approach to address pesticides and the attendant potential for ground water contamination in the Great Lakes Basin. In Great Lakes Basin counties, the overall use of pesticides has decreased by almost ten million pounds from 1994 to 1995. Annual pesticide usage now stands at 57 million pounds. There is increasing concerns not only because of toxic contamination from these substance, but also because of their potentially endocrine disrupting properties.

From 1993 to 1996, the voluntary collection Clean Sweeps Program has collected nearly 100,000 pounds of waste pesticides in the Great Lakes Basin. This number will increase as remaining Clean Sweeps reports are completed by various Great Lakes States. In such collections, 20 to 60 percent of the substances collected are suspended and canceled pesticides, some found on lists of contaminants of fish tissue and sediments. Basinwide amounts of several pesticides collected during this period include:


Figure 10: Pesticide Usage in the Great Lakes Basin

Figure 11: Herbicide Use in the Great Lakes Basin

A Great Lakes Basin Pesticide Report is being drafted by EPA and will be made available in 1998.

To help better understand pesticide use and a variety of other agricultural issues in the Great Lakes Basin, the Great Lakes Protection Fund funded a project entitled "An Agricultural Profile of the Great Lakes Basin: Characteristics and Trends in Production, Land Use and Environmental Impact." A comprehensive report and a complementary agri-environmental database were presented at the Great Lakes Agricultural Summit in April 1996. The information generated by this project will support the development of an agenda for Great Lakes agricultural research, human health research, and policy needs for consideration by the Great Lakes Protection Fund and other interested parties such as ATSDR.

In a related manner, under the auspices of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, Mexico has agreed to an 80 percent reduction in DDT over the next five years, at which time they will assess whether further reductions are necessary. This assessment will take into account the availability of alternatives, and the prevalence of malaria at that time. If warranted, further reductions will be achieved over the subsequent five years. Mexico has also agreed to cancel the registration for chlordane in 1998.

Federal Actions

The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 established a new standard of safety for pesticide residues in food. EPA must conclude with "reasonable certainty" that "no harm" will come to infants and children or other sensitive individuals exposed to pesticides. All pesticide exposure -- from food, drinking water, and home and garden use -- must be considered in determining allowable levels of pesticides in food. EPA has met an important deadline in the new law by issuing a schedule showing how the Agency will reassess the more than 9,700 existing "tolerances" -- or maximum pesticide residue limits for foods -- by August 2006, considering the pesticides that appear to post the greatest risk first. Protection of infants and children is a high priority. Of the approximately 1,800 organophosphate tolerances receiving priority review, over 300 are for residues on crops that are among the top 20 foods consumed by children.

As a key component of EPA's 1991 Pesticides and Ground Water Strategy, EPA is proposing to restrict the use of certain pesticides through the development and use of State Management Plans (SMPs). This approach provides States with the flexibility to protect ground water by utilizing knowledge of local hydrogeology, soils, agronomic practices, climate, pesticide use, and land use trends to develop state-specific management plans. In the proposed rule, EPA is proposing to restrict the legal sale and use of five pesticides that have been identified as either "probable" or "possible" human carcinogens: alachlor, atrazine, cyanazine, metolachlor, and simazine. Because of their potential to contaminate ground water, EPA has determined that these pesticides may cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment in the absence of effective management measures provided by a SMP. EPA is currently working with the States to develop generic SMPs prior to the passing of the rule.

The USGS currently has two National Water Quality-Assessment (NAWQA) Program studies underway in the Great Lakes area -- the Western Lake Michigan Drainages and the Lake Erie - Lake St. Clair Basin. Both of these NAWQA program efforts are coordinated closely with the Lake Michigan and Erie LaMPs. The long-term goals of the NAWQA Program are to describe the status and trends in the quality of a large representative part of the nation's surface and ground water resources and to identify the natural and human factors that affect their quality. In particular, the USGS is measuring the concentrations in surface and ground waters of pesticides used in agricultural and urban areas to determine their distribution and frequency of occurrence. The presence and distribution of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) also are being studied to determine if the major sources of these are agricultural practices, discharges from sewage treatment plants, or combined sewer overflows. The NAWQA program will produce water quality information that will be useful to policymakers and water managers at the local, State, and national levels of government.

Industry Actions

The manufacturer of the pesticides chlordane and heptachlor (Tier 1 and Tier 2 substances respectively under the Binational Toxics Reduction Strategy), announced that it will halt production of these two pesticides that were voluntarily canceled in the U.S. in 1988 but which are still sold overseas. After the remaining stocks are depleted, the company will retain control of the technology and will not allow the pesticides to be manufactured by another company.


Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network (IADN)

During the 1980s, studies in the Great Lakes showed that atmospheric deposition may be a major pathway of some toxic contaminants to the Great Lakes. As a result of this and other findings, the U.S. and Canada established the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network (IADN), a joint monitoring network designed to assess the magnitude and trends of atmospheric deposition of target chemicals (PAHs, PCBs, DDE, DDT, lindane, lead, mercury, and more recently, toxaphene) to the Great Lakes, and to determine emission sources whenever possible. The first binational report on IADN data, published in December 1994, indicated that there is little spatial variability in many of the critical chemical species across the Basin, although the influence of urban areas is clearly substantial, especially in heavily developed areas such as the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan. IADN will undergo a technical review in late 1997 to evaluate whether the network has met its mandates. Comments from this review will be incorporated into an Implementation Plan to be signed by the U.S. and Canada for continuation of the IADN program.

Great Lakes Emissions Inventory

In response to the 1986 Great Lakes Governors' Toxic Substances Control Agreement's specified provisions to address atmospheric deposition, and in support of Annex 15 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the Great Lakes States and the Province of Ontario, in cooperation with EPA and the Great Lakes Commission, are working together to create the Great Lakes Regional Air Toxics Emissions Inventory, and the Regional Air Pollutant Inventory Development System (RAPIDS), a computerized inventory which will house the emissions data. RAPIDS has been developed to identify the sources that are the largest contributors to the total emissions in a given geographic area. Using RAPIDS, State air regulatory agencies are building statewide air toxic contaminant inventories for point, area, and mobile sources for 49 air pollutants of potential concern to the Great Lakes, including mercury, PCBs, and dioxin. These inventories will help guide the States in future regulatory efforts. The first regional inventory for point sources of air emissions is scheduled for completion in 1997. Emissions data from mobile sources will be developed in 1997-1998. Data from RAPIDS will also be made available to meet the modeling needs of Great Lakes air quality researchers.


The cleanup of contaminated sediments is another essential element of addressing toxic contamination in the Basin. EPA and its Federal and State partners have a program for remediating these sites, using a wide range of regulatory approaches and an increasing emphasis on partnerships.

A Great Lakes Dredging Team was established in 1996 to provide a mechanism for the coordination and decision-making among local, State, Tribal, and Federal agencies responsible for maintaining and regulating dredging-related activities on the Great Lakes. The objectives of the Great Lakes Dredging Team are to: 1) contribute to the national goal of assuring that the dredging of U.S. harbors and channels is conducted in a timely and cost-effective manner while meeting environmental protection, restoration, and enhancement goals; 2) facilitate the resolution of dredging issues common to the Great Lakes region among participating agencies; 3) promote implementation of the relevant portions of the recommendations of the interagency report on the dredging process; and 4) facilitate effective communications and decision- making among Federal and State agencies represented on the Dredging Team and between the Team and key stakeholders in the dredging process.

During the last two years, several significant contaminated sediment remediation activities were undertaken, some of which are highlighted below.

The dredging and safe disposal of contaminateds ediments is a major step towards restoring the health of the Basin

Under the terms of a Clean Water Act consent decree, a northwest Indiana steel company adjacent to the Indiana Harbor conducted a dredging project of its water intake flume in 1996. Approximately 120,000 cubic yards of oil and grease-contaminated sediments were removed. Over 30,000 gallons of petroleum product was separated from the sediment, and all dredged materials were properly managed and disposed.

In 1997, EPA completed the cleanup of oil and PCB-contaminated sludge from the Gary Lagoons site in Gary, Indiana. The two unlined lagoons were situated in sandy soil, surrounded by marshes and wetlands. After draining water from the lagoons, 9,000 gallons of PCB-contaminated oil and 8,700 tons of contaminated sediments were removed. With the cooperation of FWS, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), and IDEM, a ten acre area at the site was seeded with native plants.

At the Ford Outfalls Site in the River Raisin, Michigan AoC, the removal of 28,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediments was completed over the summer of 1997. These sediments contained the highest concentrations of PCBs in the Great Lakes, with concentrations measuring as high as approximately 42,000 parts per million.

At the Evans Product Ditch in Plymouth, Michigan, located on Newburgh Lake in the Rouge River AoC, PCB-contaminated sediments were totally remediated in May 1997. Approximately 9,500 tons of sediments and soil were removed. This action will now allow for the remediation of PCBs in Newburgh Lake to commence, leading to an eventual elimination of fish consumption advisories.

At Monguagon Creek, Michigan, a tributary to the Trenton Channel (within the Detroit River AoC), the dredging of approximately 20,000 cubic yards of sediments heavily contaminated with PCBs, lead, zinc, and phenolic compounds was completed in July 1997.

At the Ruck Pond Impoundment in Cedar Creek, Wisconsin (a tributary to the Milwaukee River AoC and the major source of PCBs to the river), a State-led project under Wisconsin's Voluntary Cleanup Program led to the removal of approximately 5,900 cubic yards of contaminated sediments.

At the Willow Run Industrial Park in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a sludge lagoon, an outfall ditch, several ponds, and a stream below the sludge lagoon are being stabilized and excavated. Approximately 60,000 pounds of PCBs out of a total of approximately 100,000 pounds of PCBs have been removed to date. In addition, 133,000 cubic yards of sludge and sediments out of a total of 330,000 cubic yards have been removed thus far.

Many more sediment remediation actions are planned for the near future, including the following:

In accordance with an August 1991 Memorandum of Understanding, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) are cooperating agencies on the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal dredging and sediment disposal project. The Federal Navigation Channel has not been dredged since 1972, and an estimated 150,000 cubic yards of sediments are washed from it into Lake Michigan each year. The project calls for dredging 4.6 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments out of the harbor and ship canal over a 30 year period, and construction of a confined disposal facility (CDF). The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was released in the fall of 1995. It recommended the CDF site be located at a former oil refinery site adjacent to the Canal. The CDF construction at that location could include RCRA closure of the site, thus resolving two environmental problems. The final EIS is expected to be released in 1998, and dredging to begin two to three years later.

U.S. Steel will fund the dredging of a five mile stretch of the Grand Calumet River, which will remove approximately 700,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments, beginning in 1998.

On July 1, 1997, a facility on the Menominee River was ordered by EPA to remove a total of 10,000 cubic yards of arsenic-contaminated sediments found in four areas of the river. The facility has seven months from this date to remove the sediments.

The removal of between 50,000 and 150,000 cubic yards of sediments contaminated with DDT, PBB and HBB is planned for Michigan's Pine River.

By the end of 1998, the removal of approximately 50,000 cubic yards of heavy metal-contaminated soil and waste from the Cannelton Tannery site is planned, thus eliminating source materials to the St. Marys River AoC.

In the Saginaw River, Michigan AoC, an expected Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) settlement will fund the removal of 291,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediments, beginning in 1998, along with land acquisition for habitat enhancement and restoration.

The remediation of an unnamed tributary to the Ottawa River (in the Maumee River AoC), spurred on by a unique Federal/State/private partnership, will eventually remove 10,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediments.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) completed plan approval and authorized the implementation of a project by Murphy Oil to restore the upper Newton Creek ecosystem, comprised of the Newton Creek Impoundment, Newton Creek, and Hog Island Inlet. The project will include a $200,000 contribution by Murphy Oil in support of WDNR's sediment remediation effort in the Hog Island Inlet. Approximately 4,100 cubic yards of contaminated sediments from the impoundment and 100 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the first reach of Newton Creek will be removed. This material will be combined with cement and disposed of on Murphy Oil's property. This work began in August 1997 and will be completed in November 1997.

During the 1996 and 1997 field seasons, through the use of the EPA's R/V Mudpuppy, a sediment assessment vessel, GLNPO staff assisted States and Tribes in determining the nature and extent of sediment contamination at: Waukegan Harbor, Illinois; Indiana Harbor, Indiana; White Lake, River Raisin, Saginaw River, Trenton Channel, Pine River, St. Marys River, Grand River, Clinton River, and the Detroit River in Michigan; the Menominee River, Michigan/Wisconsin; the St. Louis River in Minnesota; and the Maumee and Black Rivers in Ohio.

The R/V Mudpuppy conducts sediments assessments
throughout the Great Lakes

GLNPO has released a report entitled Moving Mud -- Remediating Great Lakes Contaminated Sediments, A Report on the Sediment Assessment and Remediation Program in the Great Lakes Basin. This report highlights sediment projects, including assessments, feasibility studies, remedial designs, and remediations, funded during FY 1993 to 1996. These projects continue the work of the Assessment and Remediation of Contaminated Sediments (ARCS) Program. The report also provides recommendations for future efforts to remediate contaminated sediments in the Great Lakes Basin.

New York State and EPA Region 2 are creating an electronic database of contaminated sediments in the New York Great Lakes Basin. The database is being used to prioritize areas of contaminated sediments for remediation. A sediment assessment is underway for the Erie Canal in the vicinity of Lockport, New York by the New York State Canal Corporation. Erie Canal sediments are thought to be a source of dioxins to the Eighteenmile Creek AoC.

Ohio EPA is working to complete a sediment and fish tissue database of all the information the State has for the Lake Erie watershed. Over the last two years, Ohio has also conducted a sediment assessment program to try to develop background concentrations of the various chemicals in the Lake Erie Basin as related to unimpacted areas, eco-regions, and sites where biological data exists.

In 1993 and 1994, the R/V Mudpuppy conducted sediment assessments at eight hotspots in the St. Louis River AoC. In addition, a two year Regional Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program Surveying, Sampling, and Testing project (1995 to 1996) was being conducted as a collaborative effort between EPA, MPCA, and the Natural Resources Research Institute. A statistically-based sampling plan has been used to identify areas having acceptable and subminimal quality with respect to surficial sediment contamination, sediment toxicity, and benthic community structure. Statistical analyses are being used to associate sediment contaminants with observed ecological effects. This project will establish a baseline for status and trend monitoring and will attempt to determine the sampling intensity required to survey a complex Great Lakes AoC. A report on the sampling results will be finalized in Winter 1997. The four years of data collected will greatly improve the understanding of sediment contamination in the Harbor, leading to better decisions about remediation.


Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are working
together to address toxic chemicals

Various U.N. activities are addressing
transboundary environmental issues

The U.S. and Canada are cooperating in the following multilateral international and global efforts to address toxic contaminants.

The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation and its Secretariat, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), were established to address transboundary and regional environmental concerns in North America. The CEC plans to develop cooperative long-term air quality monitoring, modeling, and assessment programs in North America through the promotion, collection, and exchange of data and through the development and application of appropriate models between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. The CEC has facilitated the development of regional action plans for the phaseout or management of PCBs, DDT, chlordane, and mercury, pursuant to a resolution on the Sound Management of Chemicals adopted by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in October 1995.

Protocols on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals are being developed as part of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The POPs protocol will potentially be concluded within a year. The heavy metals protocol, which is currently expected to cover lead, mercury, and cadmium, is anticipated to be completed in 1998. Both protocols will consider a variety of response action obligations, such as banning some pesticides, use restrictions, or requiring best available technology for emissions control.

Member governments of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) decided at the 19th Session of the UNEP Governing Council to begin formal negotiation of a global treaty on POPs. Negotiations are to begin in 1998, taking into account the conclusions and recommendations of the Ad Hoc Working Group on POPs of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety, and are to be concluded in the year 2000. POPs targeted for initial action are PCBs, dioxins/furans, aldrin, dieldrin, DDT, endrin, chlordane, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene, and heptachlor. The UNEP Governing Council has directed the formation of an International Negotiating Committee and the formation of an expert group to develop science-based criteria and a procedure for identifying additional POPs as candidates for future international action.

Local Navigation

Jump to main content.