Removing Toxic Mud

Paves Way for Healthy Fishery

A 1998 sediment cleanup in Newburgh Lake, an impoundment in the Rouge River, removed 544,000 tons of toxic mud and restored a healthy fishery.


The Rouge River was once a vibrant waterway that provided a variety of uses to people, plants, animals, and insects. Newburgh Lake was created in the 1930s as part of Henry Ford’s “Village Industries” on the Rouge River. Over the course of 60 years, contaminated sediments accumulated in the impoundment. During routine fish monitoring in 1988, state officials found high concentrations of PCBs in fish. Those officials identified a polluted stormwater ditch, where an industry discharged wastewater, as the source of the contaminants. The PCBs settled in sediments in Newburgh Lake and polluted the lake’s food chain, making fish unsafe to eat. A cleanup project removed 400,000 cubic yards of sediments, containing 3,400 pounds of PCBs and other toxic compounds, from the lake. That cleanup, coupled with an intentional fish kill that eliminated 28,000 pounds of contaminated fish, brought about a 90 percent reduction in fish contaminants. Crews also restored 10 acres of critical fish habitat in the impoundment, which helped the fishery recover.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Toxic lake bottom sediments
  • Unhealthy contaminated fish
  • Health threat to people who ate tainted fish


A river with fog on it at sunrise.

By removing toxic sediment, from a lake like the one pictured above, fish habitat was restored. Credit: John Matters.

Results and Accomplishments

The project reduced PCB concentrations in fish by 90 percent. Coupled with the restoration of fish habitat, the cleanup resurrected the once-popular fishery in Newburgh Lake, which is located in a heavily populated urban area. The cleanup also contributed to the larger effort to improve water quality and restore fish and wildlife habitat in the Rouge River, which is a Great Lakes Area of Concern.