Cleanup removes tons of toxins from Milwaukee River

State and federal agencies on Friday announced the completion of a $24.6 million sediment cleanup that moves the Milwaukee Estuary closer to being removed from a list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

The $24.6 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative project removed about 140,000 cubic yards of sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PCBs and PAHs.  The contamination led to limits on eating fish caught in the river, as well as loss of habitat and other environmental problems.

Completion of the project was announced by officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Milwaukee County.

“Thousands of cubic yards of harmful contaminated sediment were removed to help boost human, ecological and local economic health,” said Cameron Davis, Senior Advisor to the EPA Administrator. “But we can’t stop here. We’re looking for new partners to match funds to accelerate cleanups in other Areas of Concern in Wisconsin and around the Great Lakes.”

Crews dredged 140,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the Milwaukee River. (Milwaukeee Riverkeeper photo)

The GLRI’s Legacy Act covered $16 million of the project cost; the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources contributed $8.6 million. The result was the cleanup of the largest known deposit of PCB-contaminated sediment in the Milwaukee River Area of Concern.

“We are making major strides cleaning up the Milwaukee River Estuary,” said WDNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “With our partners we will continue to work to bring the Milwaukee River back to provide recreational and economic benefits for the Milwaukee area.”

The Milwaukee River section of the Area of Concern extends from Cedar Creek downstream through the Outer Harbor. It includes Cedar Creek, Lincoln Creek and portions of the Menomonee, Little Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers.

In the 1980s, the U.S. and Canada identified 43 highly degraded shoreline areas along the Great Lakes.  Today there are 30 AOCs wholly in the U.S. or shared with Canada.

The Great Lakes are the largest source of surface freshwater on the planet. The lakes provide drinking water for 30 million people and support one of the world’s largest regional economies.

Past studies have shown that every $1 invested in restoring the Great Lakes produces $2 of economic activity in the region.

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