Michigan sites no longer environmental areas of concern

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Two Michigan sites, tainted by major environmental contamination for decades, have officially been removed from the U.S. and Canada’s official list of Areas of Concern.

White Lake in Muskegon County and Deer Lake in Marquette County have been taken off the list created under 1972’s Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the two countries. The original list included 43 sites throughout the Great Lakes region on both sides of the border, and removal has been a rare occurrence.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the work we have done to significantly reduce threats to public health, enhance recreational opportunities and benefit local economies and that now, today, Deer Lake and White Lake have been delisted as Areas of Concern,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, in a statement released Thursday. “The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is accelerating cleanup work in the remaining Areas of Concern, which will bring new economic opportunities to communities all around the Great Lakes.”

Deer Lake’s issues resulted from the actions of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co., which discharged mercury-laden wastewater into nearby Ishpeming’s wastewater treatment plant between 1929 and 1981. The city’s plant discharged into a nearby creek which carried the toxins into Deer Lake.

White Lake has long been plagued by contamination from more than a century of a tannery operations as well as pollution from the chemical industry that arrived in the 1950s. The Hooker Chemical Co. discharged a chemical called hexachlorocyclopentadiene — a highly toxic chemical used to make pesticides and flame retardants — into the lake. In addition, the company allowed a mountain of barrels containing the chemical to seep into the ground at the site over a period of more than 15 years.

“This announcement is the capstone on years of work to clean up our Great Lakes shorelines,” said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, in a released statement. “We appreciate the support from federal partners through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to make this happen, and we appreciate the continued support and hard work of local groups to restore Michigan’s natural resources in our Areas of Concern. We look forward to more good news from this program in the years ahead.”


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