Cleanup removes mountains

of steel slag along river

The removal of more than 1 million cubic yards of steel waste along the Lower Black River is improving water quality and habitat for fish and other wildlife.


For decades, the Black River powered the city of Lorain’s industrial economy. But the pollutants dumped into the Lake Erie tributary degraded its ecological functioning so severely it became known as the “River of Fish Tumors.” After many of the factories closed, however, Lorain viewed a healthy river as a key to its economic rebirth. In 2007, Lorain obtained 300 acres along a 1.5-mile stretch of the river from a defunct steel-making operation. The city set about restoring the area, turning to photographs from the turn of the 20th Century as a guide to its natural topography. In addition to removing steel-making waste called slag that towered 80 feet above a portion of the river, the restoration improved fish habitat and restored native plants to the area.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Toxic sediments
  • Impaired water quality
  • Contaminated fish
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat


Lower Black River restoration project sign.

Restoring the sides of the Black River with trees and plants will help support native wildlife. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Results and Accomplishments

The project has removed more than 1 million cubic yards of steel waste. Where the slag once stood, about 5,000 native shrubs and trees were planted and are taking root in a variety of habitats in the floodplain. Anecdotal evidence shows newly created pools and nearly 6,000 feet of fish shelves — areas of stone and rubble in the river where fish can find refuge and forage — have improved fish populations. Over 20 acres of floodplain wetland habitat have been restored, while 52 acres of the river have been persevered. In September of 2013, the third annual Black River Kayak-A-Thon was held to promote recreational boating on the river and to highlight the restoration project successes.