Polluted harbor finally on the road to recovery

Project Summary: A cleanup one of the most contaminated harbors in the United States recently took a huge step forward, when the federal government began dredging 175,000 cubic yards of toxic mud from the bottom of Waukegan Harbor, near Chicago.


Project name: Waukegan Harbor cleanup.

Location: Waukegan, Ill., north of Chicago.

Waukegan Harbor. (Great Lakes Commission photo)

Waukegan Harbor. (Great Lakes Commission photo)

Description: Decades of industrial activity along the shores of Waukegan Harbor caused extensive pollution, leaving what was once called the “world’s worst PCB mess.” PCB contamination of sediments in the harbor on Lake Michigan was discovered in 1975; federal officials said the Outboard Marine Corp. caused the pollution. The contaminants poisoned fish and wildlife, ruined fish and wildlife habitat and caused beach closings. In the 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared a 100-acre parcel adjacent to the harbor a federal Superfund site. The polluted harbor also landed on a list of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. OMC dredged some of the toxic sediments in 1992, but federal officials determined that the cleanup was incomplete. The EPA’s work at the site accelerated in 2012, when the agency made the Waukegan Harbor cleanup a priority.

Approximate cost of project: $48 million to dredge about 175,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the harbor. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provided nearly $2 million for habitat restoration work and fish monitoring in the harbor.

Resource challenges addressed: Toxic sediment, contaminated fish and wildlife that prompted consumption advisories, loss of fish and wildlife habitat and beach closings.

Key partners (public and private): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the city of Waukegan.

Types of jobs created: Chemists, toxicologists, biologists, dredge operators, truck drivers, wastewater treatment technicians and general laborers.

Results and accomplishments: The dredging of contaminated sediments, scheduled for completion in late 2013, is one of the last steps in a long effort to clean up the harbor and redevelop Waukegan’s waterfront. Federal officials hope to remove the harbor from a list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern in 2014.

Website: http://1.usa.gov/Y5xNDK

Originally Published: February 4, 2013