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Contaminated Sediment Studies: St. Louis River Area of Concern


The St. Louis River is the second-largest tributary to Lake Superior. The lower estuary culminates in the Duluth-Superior Harbor, which is the largest freshwater seaport in North America. In 1987, concerns over environmental quality conditions prompted the designation of the lower St. Louis River as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs). This includes the segment from Cloquet, Minn., to Lake Superior.

Due to sediment contamination, the St. Louis River AOC has several impaired uses, including degradation of bottom-feeding invertebrate communities, increased incidence of fish tumors and other abnormalities, fish consumption advisories, and restrictions on dredging. Some sediment-derived contaminants also appear to be carried by the water column to Lake Superior, the most pristine Great Lake.

photo of washing a sediment sampleIn the St. Louis River System Remedial Action Plan - Progress report (1995), a three-phase strategy was presented to reduce impairments associated with sediment contamination:

  1. assessment studies to locate sediment hot spots (i.e., areas of elevated contamination),
  2. development of hot spot management plans, and
  3. implementation of remediation (cleanup) actions.

The MPCA and its collaborators conducted several sediment investigations to implement the RAP sediment strategy. Most of these projects were funded by either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or its Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO). In addition, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WIDNR), Fond du Lac Band, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE), and others have conducted their own sediment studies in portions of the St. Louis River AOC. The WIDNR completed sediment remediation of the Hog Island Inlet/Newton Creek Site in the outer harbor in 2005. Most of these sediment quality data were included in Phases I through IV of a GIS-based sediment quality database for the St. Louis River AOC.

In recent years, additional effort has been made by the MPCA's Duluth office to develop a sediment quality management plan for the St. Louis River AOC in consultation with stakeholders. In turn, several new sediment investigations have been conducted since 2009, and these data are being integrated into the latest version of the St. Louis River AOC Database (SLRAOC DB). The newest version of the SLRAOC DB, along with summaries and data tools, will be available soon. For further information about progress in St. Louis River AOC activities, including the new database, contact Diane Desotelle at 218-302-6623.

Final delisting targets were established in December 2008 for nine beneficial use impairments. The draft delisting targets were developed through a stakeholder input process facilitated by the nonprofit St. Louis River Alliance, with final delisting targets established by the MPCA and WIDNR.

Additional resources about contaminated sediments are available from local stakeholders, including the items below:

A list of contaminated sediment projects, either led by the MPCA or by partners, is provided below. For each category, projects are listed from the most recent to the oldest.

Assessment Studies

  • Regional Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (R-EMAP) Surveying, Sampling, and Testing: 1995 and 1996 Sampling Results. For further information, contact Judy Crane at 651-757-2293.
    • The following papers have been published:
      • Crane, J.L., Richards, C., D. Breneman, S. Lozano, and J.A. Schuldt. 2005. Evaluating methods for assessing sediment quality in a Great Lakes embayment. Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management 8:323-349.
      • Peterson, G.S., R.P. Axler, K.B. Lodge, J.A. Schuldt, and J.L. Crane. 2002. Evaluation of a fluorometric screening method for predicting total PAH concentrations in contaminated sediments. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 78:111-129.
      • Breneman, D., C. Richards, and S. Lozano. 2000. Environmental influences on benthic community structure in a Great Lakes embayment. Journal of Great Lakes Research 26:287-304.

Hot Spot Management Plans

Remediation projects

For more information, contact Susan Johnson at 218-302-6601.

Last modified on January 15, 2014 14:29