The Environmental Protection Agency announced today that Deer Lake is now eligible to be removed from its Area of Concern (AOC) list. You can read the press release here. There are currently 43 Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes—a designation that was put in place under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1987. Both Deer Lake, in Michigan, and the Sheboygan River AOC, in Wisconsin, have addressed contaminate issues fully enough to be eligible for delisting, but that action has yet to be formally completed.
The Deer Lake AOC was placed on the list due to high levels of mercury found in the fish there, leading to a ban on consumption. There were two industrial sources of the contaminate known: a gold and silver company from the late 1800’s used mercury in its mining, and from 1929-1981 an iron company in the area discharged mercury-laden wastewater that made its way into Deer Lake. About $8 million was spent by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to divert Partridge Creek, which leads into Deer Lake, away from the contaminated mine site.
Background on Delisting
The delisting process for AOCs is rather technical and time-consuming, involving a period of monitoring to insure that the area remains uncontaminated and that remediation actions are in fact working. After this monitoring period, a report is issued that local officials, the environmental agency of the state in question, and the International Joint Commission all provide comment on. The public is then consulted, a final report is drawn up, and the U.S. Secretary of State formally removes the area from the AOC list.
The first AOC in the U.S. to be delisted was the Oswego River area in New York, removed from the AOC list in 2006. In February of this year, the Presque Isle AOC was delisted. Although Deer Lake is ready for the delisting process to begin, it is not expected to be formally delisted until the summer of 2014.