Paperwork coming together to remove White Lake from list of toxic hot spots in Great Lakes region

Apr 4, 2014

White Lake is the larger lake pictured. It lies north of Muskegon, Michigan.
White Lake is the larger lake pictured. It lies north of Muskegon, Michigan.
Credit Doc Searls / Creative Commons

An inland lake north of Muskegon that was once one of the most polluted places surrounding the Great Lakes is making big progress. Most of the pollution in White Lake was caused by a chemical company that dumped waste into the water decades ago.

Efforts to clean the leftover chemicals from the environment have been underway since the late 1980s.

This week federal officials took a step toward removing White Lake from a list of toxic hot-spots. Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality released this statement today:

AOCs (Areas of Concern) are defined by Beneficial Use Impairments – specific ecological problems that must be addressed to achieve recovery. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed the removal of White Lake’s Loss of Fish & Wildlife Habitat and Degradation of Fish & Wildlife Populations BUIs this week.

Restoration of these uses means that fish and wildlife habitat at White Lake has vastly improved and can support healthy populations. In large part, the restoration was made possible by a $2.1 million grant from the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, administered by the U.S. EPA. The Muskegon Conservation District coordinated the restoration of 10 public and privately owned shoreline habitat sites around White Lake, including work at city owned parks and a former municipal dump site.

“Considering the historic extent of toxic sediment contamination in White Lake, the removal of the Habitat and Populations impairments confirms that White Lake once again supports healthy natural systems,” said Michigan Office of the Great Lakes Director Jon Allan. “One clear line of evidence that obviously points to the recovery of fish populations is that White Lake successfully supported a professional fishing tournament last September. You’ve got to have a good selection of sport fish, in terms of size, species and numbers for the tournament organizers to even consider your lake.”

“Removal of these BUIs will benefit not only the people who live and work in the White Lake AOC, but all the residents of Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin as well,” wrote Chris Korleski, director of EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office, in a letter approving the BUI removals.

These are the final two BUIs to be removed from the White Lake AOC. The process to completely delist White Lake from the international registry of AOCs is underway and is expected to take a few months as various stakeholders weigh in on the process.

The lake is one of 14 major sites in Michigan on a list of toxic hot spots in the Great Lakes region. The cleanup work is difficult and expensive, but it’s expected to improve conditions for people and wildlife throughout the region.

Most of the work left at this point in the process for White Lake is paperwork. If everything goes as planned, White Lake will be taken off the toxic hot spot list in October, making it the very first in Michigan to complete the cleanup process.