Polluted harbor

finally on the road to recovery

A cleanup one of the most contaminated harbors in the United States recently took a huge step forward, when the federal government began dredging 175,000 cubic yards of toxic mud from the bottom of Waukegan Harbor, near Chicago.


Decades of industrial activity along the shores of Waukegan Harbor caused extensive pollution, leaving what was once called the “world’s worst PCB mess.” PCB contamination of sediments in the harbor on Lake Michigan was discovered in 1975; federal officials said the Outboard Marine Corp. caused the pollution. The contaminants poisoned fish and wildlife, ruined fish and wildlife habitat and caused beach closings. In the 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared a 100-acre parcel adjacent to the harbor a federal Superfund site. The polluted harbor also landed on a list of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Outboard Marine Corp. dredged some of the toxic sediments in 1992, but federal officials determined that the cleanup was incomplete. The EPA’s work at the site accelerated in 2012, when the agency made the Waukegan Harbor cleanup a priority.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Toxic sediment
  • Contaminated fish and wildlife that prompted consumption advisories
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
  • Beach closings


Harbor with boats

Waukegan Harbor, similar to the one above, has had toxic mud removed, restoring healthier fish habitat. Credit: Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant.

Results and Accomplishments

The dredging of contaminated sediments, scheduled for completion in late 2013, is one of the last steps in a long effort to clean up the harbor and redevelop Waukegan’s waterfront. Federal officials hope to remove the harbor from a list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern in 2014.