Huge source of PCBs removed

from Milwaukee River

The dredging of 140,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from Milwaukee’s Lincoln Creek and the Milwaukee River channel removed the largest source of toxic PCBs in the river, which will reduce contaminant concentrations in fish.


Historic pollution contaminated parts of the Milwaukee River estuary with PCBs and other toxins that pose health threats to aquatic organisms, wildlife and humans. The contaminated sediments prompted warnings urging people to limit their consumption of fish caught in the river; the pollutants also were the main reason the Milwaukee River estuary was listed as a Great Lakes Area of Concern. In 2008, state and federal agencies began working on a plan to clean up the contaminated river bottom sediments, which were located in Milwaukee and nearby Glendale. The first phase of the cleanup, completed in January 2012, removed nearly 10,000 dump trucks of contaminated material that contained 5,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and 4,000 pounds of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Crews also restored native fish and wildlife habitat where the cleanup took place, stabilized stream banks and re-shaped the bottom of the river channels. More dredging could take place after scientists complete a study characterizing the extent of contaminated sediments remaining in the river and creek. Any cleanup activities resulting from that study would take place in 2013.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Contaminated sediment
  • Fish consumption advisories
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat


Excavator on a barge in a river

Removing contaminated sediment, using a process like the one pictured here, has improved the health of the Milwaukee River. Credit: Lynn Vaccaro Michigan Sea Grant.

Results and Accomplishments

Removed about 140,000 cubic yards of sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.