Massive cleanup restoring a long-tortured river

Project Summary: A massive cleanup is transforming one of America’s most polluted rivers, the Grand Calumet, which has long been a major source of toxins entering Lake Michigan.

Project name: Grand Calumet River cleanup.

Location: East Chicago, Ind.

Description: The Grand Calumet River is one of 42 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. It flows 13 miles through the heavily industrialized cities of Gary, East Chicago and Hammond, Ind., before flowing into Lake Michigan via the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal. The river and harbor — which drain an area that is home to 57 severe pollution sites and wastewater treatment plants that still discharge untreated sewage into the river — contain between 5 million and 10 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment. About 150,000 cubic yards of that polluted sediment washes out of the river and into Lake Michigan annually. Over the course of the past century the river bottom was fouled by a witch’s brew of toxic wastes, including oil and grease, heavy metals, PCBs, according to government records. State and federal agencies have been working for years to launch a massive cleanup of the river, and those efforts are now paying off. The first phase of the river cleanup, a $33 million project that removed 92,000 cubic yards of toxic mud from a one-mile stretch of the river bottom, was completed in 2010. That cleanup was followed by habitat restoration work in that stretch of river. Future projects will remove more contaminated sediment from the river.

This aerial photo shows areas of the Grand Calumet River that are targeted for sediment cleanups and habitat restoration. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

This aerial photo shows areas of the Grand Calumet River that are targeted for sediment cleanups and habitat restoration. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

Approximate cost of project: $33 million. Cleaning up the entire Grand Calumet River and Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal will cost more than $100 million.

Resource challenges addressed: Contaminated sediment, tons of which washes into Lake Michigan; loss of native fish species and other aquatic life; loss of wetlands; and fish and wildlife habitat.

Key partners (public and private): The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Types of jobs created: Biologists, ecologists, toxicologists, chemists, environmental engineers, dredge operators and truck drivers.

Results and accomplishments: Crews removed 92,000 cubic yards of contaminated bottom sediments from a one-mile stretch of the river and placed a cap over remaining contaminants in that stretch of the river bottom. The cleanup was followed by habitat restoration work that created new habitat for fish and wildlife.

Web site: http://epa.gov/glla/grandcal

Originally Published: August 14, 2012

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