Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition

Contact: Lindsey Bacigal, BacigalL@nwf.org, (734) 887-7113
Jordan Lubetkin, Lubetkin@nwf.org, (734) 904-1589

$1B Investment in Toxic Pollution Clean-up a ‘Game-Changer’ for Great Lakes, Communities

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (February 17, 2022)—The Biden Administration’s plan to invest an additional $1 billion to clean up toxic pollution in the Great Lakes region, announced today, will be essential to restore the Great Lakes and to protect the drinking water, public health, and jobs of millions of people in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, and Wisconsin, according to the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

“This investment will be a game-changer in the effort to clean up pollution that has poisoned local drinking water and threatened the health of communities,” said Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “This investment will benefit millions of people, provide a shot in the arm to Great Lakes restoration efforts, and support local economies. We thank President Biden, his administration, and the members of Congress who supported this funding for recognizing the urgent need to address this serious threat.”

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition pushed for increased Great Lakes investments in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill contains an additional $1 billion for Great Lakes restoration actions.

The Environmental Protection Agency is directing that funding to clean up the most polluted sites in the region. These sites – called Areas of Concern – contain high levels of cancer-causing and health-threatening pollution, such as PCB’s, mercury, and other chemicals, that have poisoned the water and led to drinking water restrictions, fish consumption advisories, and beach closures.

“The clean-up of these toxic hot-spots will benefit communities most impacted by pollution, which tend to be low-income, Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous communities,” said Brenda Coley, co-chair of the Coalition and co-executive director of Milwaukee Water Commons. “We thank EPA Administrator Michael Regan for his leadership in tackling the biggest pollution problems in the region and confronting environmental injustices that continue to plague our communities. As these projects move forward, it will be essential to engage and partner with local communities, as we strive to achieve the common goal of access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water.”

The U.S. and Canadian governments, in the 1980s, identified 43 contaminated sites, which they deemed Areas of Concern. To date, six sites have been remediated on the U.S. side. The Biden Administration anticipates Infrastructure Investment and Job Act funding will clean up 22 additional sites by 2030, including:

  • Illinois: Waukegan;
  • Indiana: Grand Calumet River;
  • Michigan: Clinton River, Detroit River, Manistique River, Muskegon Lake, River Raisin, Rouge River, St. Clair River, St. Marys River, and Torch Lake;
  • Minnesota/Wisconsin: St. Louis River;
  • Ohio: Black River, Cuyahoga River, and Maumee;
  • New York: Buffalo River, Eighteenmile, Rochester Embayment, and Niagara River;
  • Wisconsin: Fox River, Milwaukee Estuary, and Sheboygan.

“This funding will accelerate vital restoration efforts,” said Marnie Urso, co-chair of the Coalition and senior policy director for Audubon Great Lakes. “Many of these polluted sites are in communities along the Great Lakes shoreline that contain important habitat for birds. Federal investments to remediate these sites benefit people and wildlife —and these investments have been doing wonders to help recover populations of threatened and declining species such as the Piping Plover and Black Tern. Thanks to this investment in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative their future is brighter.”

The $1 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure bill was directed to support the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has supported the restoration of fish and wildlife habitat, clean-up of toxic pollution, reduction of farm and city runoff, and management of invasive species. Increasingly, restoration investments have been heralded as a way to help communities prepare for and adapt to climate change.

“Investments to restore the habitat, wetlands and natural areas around these toxic hotspots will be vital to restore the Great Lakes and help communities deal with the impacts from a changing climate,” said Mike Shriberg, co-chair of the Coalition and regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “The region is already experiencing more erratic weather and increased rain due to climate change. These investments will help communities combat flooding, sewage overflows, and other problems that are being exacerbated by global warming.”

Federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative investments over the last 12 years have helped clean up long-standing legacy pollutants. The infusion of an additional $1 billion will allow more sites to be remediated more quickly.

“This funding will help close the book on one of the most infamous pollution episodes in our nation’s history,” said Lynn McClure, co-chair of the Coalition and senior regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The EPA’s goal is to use these funds to clean up and restore highly polluted areas, including the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern—the same river that caught fire and sparked a national environmental movement. Cleaning up this corridor, which extends for 100 miles through northern Ohio and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, will be good for the people and wildlife that visit and call this area home.”

The bipartisan infrastructure bill, passed by the Senate and the House in the fall, contains significant federal investments to update the nation’s water infrastructure and address other clean water priorities in the Great Lakes region and across the country. Read more about the EPA’s Area of Concern program.

Since 2004, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has been harnessing the collective power of more than 170 groups representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at HealthyLakes.org or follow us on Twitter @HealthyLakes.

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