Muskegon Lake’s Contaminated Sediment
Cleaned Up by Poplar Trees
Planting poplar trees around Muskegon Lake is helping remove toxins in the soil by absorbing and degrading the chemicals as the trees grow. The poplar trees also will reduce runoff and provide a sustainable source of wood for local manufacturers.
The history of pollution around Muskegon Lake, Mich., from petroleum products, mercury, and PCB’s caused the lake to be listed as an Area of Concern—a designation conferred to the region’s most polluted waters—in 1985. Nutrient runoff from the surrounding landscape also caused large algal blooms and harmed the base of the food chain in the lake. As a result beach closings occurred, fish and wildlife were degraded and the public was warned not to consume them, fish and wildlife habitat was impaired, and dredging was restricted. Many projects are on-going to restore this complex ecosystem to health with a goal of removing the lake from the Area of Concern list by 2019.
One of these projects helping Muskegon Lake uses poplar trees to clean up toxins, absorb runoff, and contribute to the local economy. Poplar trees can contribute to the cleanup of the landscape through phytoremediation—a process where trees absorb toxins in the soil as they are growing. Poplar trees absorb heavy metals, chlorinated solvents, and volatile organic compounds and the trees then degrade the toxins or convert them into a non-toxic form. Soil can then stay in place, reducing run-off and erosion, and be cleaned up at the same time. This also circumvents the need to store contaminated soil offsite. Poplar trees are fast growing and great at absorbing water, helping to minimize runoff into Muskegon Lake. Finally, because the poplars grow so quickly, they can also contribute to the local economy, providing wood cabinets, doors, and paneling, or as a source for bioenergy production.
Resource Challenges Addressed
- Contaminated soil
- Polluted runoff
MUSKEGON LAKE REMEDIATION WITH POPLAR TREES
Location: Muskegon, Mich.
Approximate cost: $400,000 from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
Key partners: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, U.S. Forest Service, Delta Institute, West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, City of Muskegon, State of Michigan, Shoreline Inn, Mart Dock
Types of jobs created: General laborers, small equipment operators, tree farm employees
Results and Accomplishments
Planting over 3,000 poplar trees around Muskegon Lake has helped remove toxins from the soil, reduced stormwater runoff into the lake, and provided a sustainable source of wood for local businesses. These poplar trees are now absorbing heavy metals in the soil that would otherwise build up in fish and wildlife.