Courtesy: Environmental Protection Agency

CHICAGO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that two U.S. Areas of Concern, Deer Lake in the Lake Superior basin and White Lake in the Lake Michigan basin, have been removed from the binational list of toxic hotspots that were targeted for cleanup in the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

After decades during which only one U.S. Area of Concern was delisted, federal agencies have accelerated cleanup actions during the past five years by using Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. Three Areas of Concern – including Deer Lake and White Lake – have been delisted since the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched by the Obama Administration in 2010. The United States and Canada designated 43 Areas of Concern under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, in an effort to target sites contaminated primarily by industrial activity that occurred before modern environmental laws were enacted.

“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. “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.”

“Today’s announcement is fantastic news for the communities involved, and for all of us who care about the Great Lakes,” said U.S. Senator Carl Levin. “The restoration of these two areas of concern shows what we can accomplish with the focus and funding that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provides, and it should inspire us to redouble our efforts to restore other contaminated areas in the Great Lakes.”

“Today’s historic announcement is a major achievement that reflects the decades of hard work by local communities in the U.P. and West Michigan and the importance of federal funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. “Deer Lake and White Lake are the first areas in Michigan to get a clean bill of health thanks to this federal partnership, which invests in the health of our Great Lakes and waterways. Today’s announcement shows once again the urgent need to invest in partnerships that clean up, restore, and protect our Great Lakes for generations to come.”

“The delisting of the Deer Lake Area of Concern and the White Lake Area of Concern is great news for Northern Michigan,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek. “As a member of the Great Lakes Task Force, I’ve been a strong advocate for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has made today’s news possible. Northern Michiganders, and all who live and work in the Great Lakes, understand why efforts like the GLRI are so important to preserving the Great Lakes for future generations.”

“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. “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.”

The Deer Lake Area of Concern was located along the southern shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This Area of Concern was contaminated by mercury that leached into water flowing through an abandoned iron mine and by other sources of pollution. High levels of mercury contamination in fish and reproductive problems in bald eagles were documented. A Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant ($8 million) was used to complete the final work required for delisting: a project that diverted water from the underground mine to the surface, where it was redirected to restore a trout steam known as Partridge Creek.

The White Lake Area of Concern was located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in Muskegon County, Mich. This Area of Concern was contaminated by decades of pollution from tannery operations, chemical manufacturing and other sources. Over 100,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment were removed during the White Lake Area of Concern cleanup. Since 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provided $4.6 million to complete the final work required for delisting the White Lake Area of Concern, including $2.5 million to clean up contaminated sediment and restore habitat at Tannery Bay and $2.1 million to restore shoreline and over 40 acres of degraded fish and wildlife habitat.

Last summer, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality formally requested that EPA start the process to delist the Deer Lake and White Lake Areas of Concern. EPA reviewed the environmental monitoring data submitted with MDEQ’s requests and determined that both Areas of Concern were eligible to be delisted. EPA provided notice of intent to delist the two Areas of Concern to the government of Canada, tribal nations, the International Joint Commission and the general public. MDEQ will continue to monitor ecological conditions in the delisted Areas of Concern, with support from EPA.

In 2013, the Presque Isle Bay Area of Concern (Lake Erie, Pa.) was delisted, the first since GLRI was launched in 2010. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding has been used to complete all necessary remediation and restoration actions at three additional Areas of Concern: Waukegan Harbor (Lake Michigan, Ill.), Sheboygan Harbor (Lake Michigan, Wis.), and Ashtabula River (Lake Erie, Ohio). Environmental monitoring is ongoing at those Areas of Concern to assess their eligibility for delisting.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding is also being used to accelerate cleanup work in all of the other remaining Areas of Concern on the U.S. side of the border.