Decades of Cleanup Work

Paying Off for White Lake

Intensive cleanup activities have improved water quality, fish health and reduced phosphorus concentrations in White Lake, which is one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. White Lake could be removed from the AOC list by the summer of 2014.


White Lake was designated a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1987 after contaminated groundwater beneath the former Hooker Chemical manufacturing facility seeped into the lake, polluting the water, contaminating the mud and sand at the bottom of the lake, and tainting fish and wildlife.  A tannery on the other side of White Lake caused a variety of problems in the lake, including: polluted drinking water; contaminated fish; explosive algal growth; degraded fish an wildlife populations; loss of fish and wildlife habitat; and damaged bottom-dwelling organisms at the base of the lake’s food chain. This pollution crisis harmed the lake and gave the otherwise scenic waterway a bad reputation.

Cleanup efforts over the past decade have removed tons of contaminated sediments from the lake bottom, halted the flow of polluted groundwater into the lake and reduced the amount of phosphorus entering the lakes. In May 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that White Lake no longer suffered from excessive algal growth. By February 2013, restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption had been lifted. The remaining impairments to the waterway are on schedule to be addressed by the summer of 2014, at which point the AOC designation would finally be removed.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Contaminated sediments
  • Restrictions on fish consumption
  • Excessive phosphorus causing algal growth
  • Aesthetic degradation from debris and trash


White Lake shoreline with native plants returning.

A great blue heron, perched on a log in the distance, enjoys the habitat restoration in White Lake. Funding for this shoreline cleanup was provided by Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Photo credit: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Office of the Great Lakes

Results and Accomplishments

Two cleanup projects removed a total of 97,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments, which improved water quality, improved fish and wildlife populations and bolstered a resurgent tourism industry centered largely on the lake. Large stones known as riprap were removed from the banks of the lake and were replaced with native plants. Great blue herons and other wildlife have been seen returning to White Lake and the planned removal from the Area of Concern list will be a victory for wildlife and local residents alike.

White Lake shoreline with stablized stakes.

The shoreline of White Lake shortly after restoration. Stabilizing newly installed banks is important to help native plants take root. Photo credit: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Office of the Great Lakes.

Toxic sediment along the edge of White Lake with sawdust on a part of it

The toxic sediment in the White Lake AOC is mixed with corn cob dust to make it solid enough to transport safely. Photo credit: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Office of the Great Lakes.