2012-08-23 / Front Page

River focus of meeting, open house

DEQ, other agencies to address PCBs

MANISTIQUE – The Department of Environmental Quality and a variety of other federal and state partners will be hosting an open house and public meeting on Aug. 28. The event will address issues relating to the Manistique River and harbor’s long-standing designation as an “Area of Concern”.

According to the DEQ’s website, AOCs are the result of the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada. Under this agreement, 43 areas were outlined and identified as having serious water quality problems, causing beneficial use impairments of “shared aquatic resources”. The areas were deemed AOCs and, in Michigan alone, there were 14 – one in Manistique.

Stephanie Swart, DEQ’s AOC coordinator for the Manistique River, said the area was first flagged in 1986, when the Michigan Department of Community Health issued fish consumption advisories. From that point on, the area, stretching 1.7 miles from Manistique Papers Dam to the end of the Manistique harbor, was considered a “toxic hot spot” she explained.

“Manistique originally had five beneficial use impairments, and now it has two remaining,” she said. “They are the restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption and restriction on dredging activities.”

The river’s restrictions and designation stem from past activities of Manistique Papers, Inc., Swart explained. These activities produced PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl), which, according to the EPA’s website, are man-made organic chemicals that do not readily break down in the environment and can be taken up into the bodies of small organisms and fish. People who ingest the affected fish may then be exposed to the long list of PCB-caused health effects, such as cancer, effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems, the site states.

“The paper mill doesn’t actually do the process anymore that caused the PCBs,” said Swart. “The original process that they were doing was something called ‘de-inking’, and the solvents that they used to ‘de-ink’ the paper actually leeched the PCBs into a lagoon that they had on their property.”

Since that time, she explained the mill has walled and filled in the lagoon, preventing any further leeching into the river, as far as the DEQ is aware. However, the long life of PCBs has allowed them to thrive in the sediment of the river – resulting in the continued AOC designation.

“They’re an organic chemical, so they get tied in with anything else that has carbon, so that’s why we see them in the sediment,”

Swart said.

For this reason, she explained the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been enlisted to do dredging in the federal navigation channel portion of the AOC, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will dredge in the harbor and then just North of U.S. 2 to a slip area South of Manistique Papers.

Residents will be seeing this activity, along with other testing by the various federal agencies tasked with removing the river from the AOC list. These agencies include the DEQ, NOAA, the United States Geological Survey, the Army Corp of Engineers, and the EPA.

“The goal of my office, as well as the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office and several other stakeholder agencies, is to delist the area of concern by 2015,” she said.

Since the agencies will have a strong presence in the area throughout the rest of this summer and into fall, as well as next year, Swart said the open house and public meeting will give residents the opportunity to ask questions and understand exactly what is happening.

“The idea behind … having this open house, is to explain to the community all the stakeholders that are involved and give them an idea of all of priority projects and actions that we’re putting in place in order to delist the area of concern,” she explained. “We’re doing a whole bunch of studies related to sediment chemistry … PCBs, and swallows, and spiders and mussels and fish. We’re also determining the hydrodynamics of the river as well to see how things move through the river in terms of the woodchips and then how that affected the dynamics of PCBs and sediment.”

By conducting these tests, Swart said the agencies will then be able to formulate a remedial design and action plan for successfully delisting the area. She noted that this will most likely involve removing the most contaminated sediment from the river.

“We’re talking about several federal partners that have come together to, not only determine our best course of action in Manistique, but then also implement that action,” she said. “The end result is we have a really good technical team of people who are really, not only passionate about the Manistique River, but also passionate about getting this area delisted.”

In the meantime, Swart reminds residents to keep in mind the river’s AOC designation and also the MDCH’s Fish Consumption Advisory when taking fish from the river.

“We’re working with the Department of Community Health to put out educational materials, and there are educational signs out as well,” she said.

Keeping in mind portion size, and that there are certain fish that should be consumed in limited quantities, and some that shouldn’t be eaten at all, are tips residents should follow, Swart added. More information about the consumption advisory can be found at the MDCH “Eat Safe Fish” website.

The open house will be held from 2-4 p.m. at the Upper Crust Café and Deli, with the public meeting following from 5-6 p.m.

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