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Ohio officials addressing pollutants in Lake Erie

May 3, 2016

Sediment in Lake Erie, once thought to be safe, could now pose a threat to life in the lake.

Officials at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are tracking a collection of pollutants in the lake that are at unsafe concentrations.

The source is a deposit of dredged material from the U.S. Army Corps, put there decades ago – so long ago the pile was "legacied in" before the Clean Water Act passed in 1972. Testing from the Corps indicated the sediment was safe and stationary.

But last year, the Ohio EPA tested the spot, known as "Area 1," and found high levels of PCB and PAH, over 100 parts per million in some cases, according to Heidi Griesmer of the Ohio EPA. Not only that, but the sediment is also heading toward the shore

Griesmer said the pollutants pose no threat to people, and the water is safe to drink. The City of Cleveland also sent out a release Monday alerting water customers they were safe. 

"There is not an immediate health risk or any impact at all to Cleveland's drinking water at this time," Griesmer said. "But, we don't want to wait and have that occur some time in the future."

Griesmer said the pollutants are problematic for living organisms in the lake. The Ohio EPA has been trying to get the Army Corps to conduct further tests and address the situation for a year, she said, but they haven't gotten much of a response. 

 This past week, the EPA sent a formal letter to the Brigadier General requesting assistance with the sediment, and Griesmer said they haven't heard back.

A spokesperson for the Army Corps said it will release an update on Wednesday. 

While she doesn't want to speculate about the severity of the situation, Griesmer said more testing is absolutely needed.

"We didn't know it was as bad as it is," she said. "We had received information from the Corps basically saying 'It's fine; It's there, it's not moving.'"

Environmental officials in Michigan said the sediment poses no threat to the state.