Ohio state environmental officials don’t like a federal proposal to dump sediment from the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland Harbor in the open-water of Lake Erie. Because of its contamination, the Cuyahoga because infamous as “the river that caught fire” in 1969 and helped provide the impetus for passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972.
Dredged sediment from the once heavily polluted river has not been discarded in Lake Erie for 40 years.
“We have deep concerns,” said Mike Settles, a spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which disagrees with federal testing methods and argues that the sediments “objectively and unambiguously fail” to meet federal PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) limits, making them a threat to fish. The state also is worried about levels of residual DDT, a pesticide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
As a consequence, the state has ruled that the sediment must be placed in an existing disposal facility near Burke Lakefront Airport, not in the middle of the lake.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers argued that moving the dredged sediment to areas 5 to 9 miles offshore would create “no significant impact.” It added that sediment “has improved to the point that it now meets U.S. EPA/USACE guidelines for open-lake placement.”
Despite requests from both sides to help mediate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency avoided involvement.
Local environmental groups, however, sided squarely with the state.
“It’s a terrible idea,” said Nathan Johnson from the Ohio Environmental Council. “It could increase toxicity in Lake Erie fish. It’s just a bad idea.”
Settles added that the state agency is evaluating alternative plans with less or no environmental impact, as it considers the dredging request.
Since 1974, sediments from the river have been placed in manmade containment areas along the shoreline of Lake Erie, with no in-lake dumping permitted because of contaminants. But sediments from several lake communities, including Toledo, Ashtabula, and Erie (Pa.) have been dumped into the lake in recent years.