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Project technical assistance was provided by the following individuals at GVSU:
Carissa Bertin, Jessica Blunt, Alexey Stiop, Mike Sweich, Shana McCrumb, Kane Onwuzulike

Ship support was provided by the crews of the following Research Vessels:
R/V Mudpuppy (USEPA) J. Bohnam and the R/V D.J. Angus (GVSU) B. Burns

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 (PDF 1.66Mb, 156pps )

Sediment Assessment and Remediation Report

Preliminary Investigation of the Extent of Sediment Contamination in the Lower Grand River

Project Team

EPA Project Officer
Dr. Marc Tuchman USEPA GLNPO

Principal Scientists
Dr. Richard Rediske GVSU Sediment Chemistry
Dr. Min Qi GVSU PCB Congeners
Jeffery Cooper GVSU Sediment Toxicity

The Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer used by GVSU for this project was partially funded by a National Science Foundation Grant (DUE-9650183).


This work was supported by Grant Number GL985555-01-0 between the Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and Grand Valley State University. Additional funding was provided by the Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute (WRI).


Table of Contents

Executive Summary 

A preliminary investigation of the nature and extent of sediment contamination in the lower Grand River was performed. Three areas in the lower Grand River exceeded sediment quality guidelines for heavy metals and selected organic chemicals. The locations and parameters of concern are listed below:

Harbor Island (G20). Exceeds sediment PEL values for chromium, lead, nickel, and DDE in the top core section. Deeper core sections were extensively contaminated with heavy metals.

Spring Lake (G6). Exceeds sediment PEL values for chromium, lead, cadmium, nickel, and DDE.

Grand Haven (G12). Exceeds sediment PEL values for chromium and nickel. The sediments at this location exhibited a statistically significant level of toxicity to amphipods when compared to the control.

The extent of contaminated sediments in the vicinity of G12 (near the Grand Haven tannery) appears to be localized in a small area. Some additional sampling of this area would be necessary to define the extent of the contaminated sediments. The results for Spring Lake and Harbor Island show these areas to be contaminated with heavy metals and selected organic compounds. Additional sampling and analysis would be necessary to characterize the extent of sediment contamination in the areas around Harbor Island and Spring Lake.

Meander core islands appear to play a significant role in the lower Grand River with respect to the deposition of contaminated sediments. Pockets of contaminated sediments were found at the downstream tip of Harbor Island (G20), and the unnamed islands near G24 and G17. These areas serve as sediment deposition zones and indicate the effects of historical discharges of metals and organic chemicals to the lower Grand River. High water events however can transport contaminated sediments from these deposits and increase the contaminant loading to Lake Michigan. Since metals and organic chemicals are associated with the suspended sediment load, the role of the meander core deposits in contaminant transport needs to be examined in detail. This investigation examined three of the 12 meander core islands that are located in the lower Grand River.

The normalization of heavy metal data with aluminum was examined for chromium and lead. Statistically significant correlations between these elements were determined in background samples (r = 0.73 and 0.75 for Cr and Pb respectively). Plots of the project data set demonstrate that anthropogenic enrichment of lead and chromium has occurred in a majority of the top and middle core sections.

Statistically significant (alpha = 0.05) acute toxicity effects were observed in the sediments of samples G6-P and G12-P on the amphipod, H. azteca, by the Dunnett’s test. The PEL values for chromium and DDE were exceeded at G12-P. PEL values for arsenic and DDE were exceeded at G6-P. Statistically significant (alpha = 0.05) mortality was not seen on the midge, C. tentans in the Grand River sediments.


The Grand River watershed contains the longest river in the State of Michigan and comprises 13% of the entire Lake Michigan drainage basin (Sommers, 1977). A map of the Lower Grand River is provided in Figure 1.1. Two thirds of this 3.6 million acre watershed is designated as agricultural with 22% of the total pesticide usage in the Lake Michigan basin concentrated within its boundaries (GAO, 1993; Hester, 1995). Approximately 300,000 lbs. of atrazine alone are applied within the Grand River watershed on an annual basis (Hester, 1995). Since the Grand River watershed includes two of the larger population and industrial centers in the State of Michigan, there have been significant anthropogenic activities that have adversely impacted the watershed. Historically, both the Grand Rapids and Lansing areas were known for large-scale metal finishing and plating industries that contributed significant amounts of heavy metals to the environment. A large tannery with a historic discharge to the river is also located in the Grand Haven area. In addition, the lower region of the Grand River supported a large number of wood processing facilities. High levels of the wood preservative compound, pentachlorophenol, was recently found in sediments of Spring Lake and in the navigation channel outside its confluence with the Grand River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Bowman, 1995). A second sampling of the area was however unable to confirm these results. Additional surveys of the sediments in the Grand River were performed by USACE in 1996 (DLZ, 1996). Elevated levels of heavy metals and PAH compounds were detected in these investigations. The USACE investigations focused on the evaluation of the sediments for dredging and concentrated on samples collected from the navigation channels. The sediments in areas outside of the navigation channel have not been investigated.

Recent studies of the 12 major tributaries of Lake Michigan have found the Grand River to be one of the most significant contributors of contaminant loads to Lake Michigan (Shafer, et al., 1995; Hall and Behrendt, 1995; and Cowell, et al., 1995, and Robertson 1997). For most contaminants, the loading from the Grand River is comparable to that of the Fox River (WI), yet we know little about sites and sources of contamination in the Grand as compared to the Fox. For example, preliminary results of the Lake Michigan Mass Balance Study have found that the Grand River is the largest tributary source to Lake Michigan for lead, DDT compounds and atrazine and the second largest source for mercury (D. Armstrong, J. Hurley, and P. Hughes pers. comm.). There is, however, very little data available concerning the location of contaminant source areas in the Grand River watershed.

The Geology Of The Grand River Watershed 

The geology of the Grand River Watershed was described in a previous report (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1972). From its headwaters in northeastern Hillsdale County at elevation 1040 feet, the Grand River flows northward to Lansing, Michigan, where it makes an abrupt bend and meanders westerly to Grand Haven where it discharges into Lake Michigan. The Grand River flows 260 miles through a basin 135 miles long and up to 70 miles in width. With a drainage area of 5572 square miles, the Grand River basin encompasses all or part of nineteen counties. A map of the Grand River watershed is shown in Figure 1.1. The topography of the basin is a result of Pleistocene glaciating with moraines and outwash plains dissected by streams. Kettle holes appear sporadically on out wash plains and usually are filled with water as swamps or lakes. Till plains, moraines, kames, and esker systems of the Port Huron system are the predominant surface feature with relief of 50 to 60 feet. Pasture and crop land comprise approximately 63 percent of the basin and another 15 percent is comprised of forest. The harbor at Grand Haven has a minimum draft of 21 feet, and a channel 100 feet wide and eight feet deep extends 17 miles upstream. Above this point, the river is not suitable for commercial navigation.

The Grand River Basin is underlain by two distinct groups of rocks, the younger glacial tills, and the older bedrock. Glacial deposits are a mixture of rock material from many different sources. This rock material was picked up, transported and deposited by glaciers or by waters flowing from the glaciers. The principal glacial deposits in the Grand River basin are till, moraines, outwash, and glacial lakebeds. The bedrock, that underlies the glacial deposits, was deposited in large inland seas that covered most of the area of the Great Lakes States. Bedrock formations are comprised primarily of sandstone, limestone, dolomite and shale, but include thick beds of salt, gypsum, and anhydrite. After deposition, the bedrock formations in the Great Lakes were warped into geologic structures that resembles a gigantic set of shallow bowls. The Grand River Basin overlies the south and southwestern part of this structure. The bedrock that underlies this basin generally dips gently to the north and east toward the center of the basin structure causing individual formations to be progressively deeper in a northerly and easterly direction.

The Grand River Basin evolved during the retreat of the last of the great continental glaciers. Most of the present surface features of the basin resulted from deposition of the rock materials from glaciers and subsequent erosion. The basin is underlain by sediments deposited from glacial lobes that advanced over the basin from the Saginaw Bay and from Lake Michigan. The two lobes coalesced along a north-south line near the center of Kent County. The area of coalescence is one of rolling topography. The lower part of the Grand River Basin is formed on the sediments of former glacial Lake Chicago.

The major portion of the basin is rather flat and featureless. The maximum local relief in the areas upstream from Maple Rapids, Portland, and Hastings generally ranges from 50 to 75 feet. The areas of minimal relief contain very poorly drained soil. Swamps and marshes make up a significant part of the Maple, Looking Glass, and Cedar River basins. The upper reaches of the Flat and Rogue River basins include extensive and numerous swamps, marshes, and many lakes, as does the middle part of the Thornapple River basin and the upper part of the Grand River Basin. The upper part of the Maple River includes flatlands formed on the sediments of ancient glacial lakes. The total relief between Lake Michigan, which has an altitude of about 580 feet, and the highest point in the basin, which are at altitudes of about 1170 feet in southern Jackson County, is about 700 feet. The maximum local relief within the basin ranges from 200 to 275 feet between the banks of the Grand River and the adjacent highlands. Areas with 200 or more feet of local relief, most of which are along the Grand River, constitute much less than 5 percent of the total basing area.

Figure 1.1. Figure 1.2
Grand River Watershed - click for a larger image
Lower Grand River watershed
The Grand River Water Shed
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The Lower Grand River Water Shed
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Project Objectives And Task Elements 

The objective of this investigation was to conduct a Phase I assessment of heavy metal and pesticide contamination in the lower Grand River. Selected samples were analyzed for chlorinated phenols, PAH compounds, and PCB congeners in areas where industrial releases may have occurred. In addition, a preliminary assessment of sediment depositional patterns and sediment toxicity were performed to assist in the analysis of the ecological effects and in the evaluation of remediation alternatives. Specific objectives and task elements are summarized below:

Experimental Design  

This investigation was designed to examine specific sites of possible contamination as well as provide an overall assessment of the nature and extent of sediment contamination in the lower region of the Grand River. This bifurcated approach allowed the investigation to focus on specific sites based on historical information in addition to examining the broad-scale distribution of contamination. To address contamination at specific sites, 16 core samples were collected from locations likely to have been impacted by significant anthropogenic activity. The locations were selected to target current and historical point sources and downstream sites from known industrial and municipal discharges. These sites were determined by the analysis of historical data and industrial site locations. Analysis of river flow patterns and depositional areas were then used to select seven locations that would reflect the general distribution of contaminants.

Sediment samples were collected using the U.S. EPA Research Vessel Mudpuppy and the GVSU Research Vessel D.J. Angus. The sediment cores were collected with a VibraCore device with core lengths ranging from 6-8 ft. The core samples were then sectioned in three equal lengths for chemical analysis. For each core, the analytical parameters included a general series of inorganic and organic constituents as well as specific chemicals related to a particular source or area. The general chemical series for each core included the following heavy metals; arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc. In addition, DDT, DDE, DDD, and PCB Congeners were analyzed on all cores. A subset of the 11 core samples were analyzed for PAH compounds and chlorinated phenols. Basic sediment chemistry parameters (organic carbon, aluminum, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, and grain size) were also analyzed on each core. Aluminum and other sediment chemistry parameters were used to normalize sediment metal data for the differentiation of background levels and anthropogenic sources (Loring 1991, Helmke, et al 1977). The location of the sampling stations are illustrated in Figure 1.2. Analytical methods were performed according to the protocols described in SW-846 3rd edition (EPA 1994a).

Chemistry data were then supplemented by laboratory toxicity studies that utilize standardized exposure regimes to evaluate the effects of contaminated sediment on test organisms. Six Ponar samples were collected in areas that had elevated levels of contaminants in the top core sections. Standard EPA methods (1994b) using Chironomus tentans and Hyalella azteca were used to determine the acute toxicity of sediments from the Ponar samples.


Bowman, D. W. 1995. Grand River at Grand Haven Michigan: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tier II Evaluation. June, 1995.

Cowell, S. E., Hurley, J. P., Schafer, M. M. and P. E. Hurley. 1995. Mercury partitioning and transport in Lake Michigan Tributaries. Presented at 38th Conference. International Association of Great Lakes Research.

DLZ, 1996. Grand Haven Sediment Sampling and Analysis. Delivery Order #0014. Prepared for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Detroit District.

EPA, 1994a. Test Methods for Evaluating Solid Waste Physical/Chemical Methods. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. SW-846, 3rd Edition.

EPA, 1994b. Methods for Measuring the Toxicity and Bioaccumulation of Sediment-Associated Contaminants with Freshwater Invertebrates. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA/600/R-94/024.

GAO. 1993. Issues Concerning Pesticide Usage in the Great Lakes Watershed. GAO-RCED-93-128. 39pp.

Hall, D. W. and T. E. Behrendt. 1995. Polychlorinated byphenyls and pesticides in Lake Michigan tributaries, 1993-95. Presented at 38th Conference. International Association of Great Lakes Research.

Helmke, P. A., Koons, R. D., Schomberg, P. J. and I. K. Iskandar. 1977. Determination of trace element contamination of sediments by multielement analysis of clay-size fraction. Environ. Sci. Technol.10:984-988. 23:200-208.

Hester, M. R. 1995. Atlas of Pesticide Usage Trends and Environmental Risk Potentials in the Grand River Watershed. Pub. #MR-95-3. Water Resources Institute. Grand Valley State University.

Loring, D. H. 1991. Normalization of heavy-metal data from estuarine and coastal sediments. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 48:101-115.

Robertson, D. M. 1997. Regionalized loads of suspended sediment and phosphorus to Lakes Michigan and Superior-High flow and long –term average. Journal of Great Lakes Research. 23:416-439.

Schropp, S. J., Windom, H. L., Ed. 1988. A Guide to the Interpretation of Metal Concentrations in Estuarine Sediments. Florida Department of Environmental Regulation Coastal Zone Management Section.

Shaffer, M. M., Overdier, J. T., Baldino, R. A., Hurley, J. P. and P. E. Hughes. 1995. Levels, partitioning, and fluxes of six trace elements in Lake Michigan tributaries. Presented at 38th Conference. International Association of Great Lakes Research.

Sommers, L. 1977. Atlas of Michigan. Michigan State University Press. East Lansing. 241pp.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1972. Comprehensive Water Resources Study. The Grand River Basin. Part II. Detroit District. Appendix C.


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