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Environmental Progress - Spring 1997

Milestone in Waukegan Harbor PCB Cleanup

Harbor fish are now in the same categories applied to all of Lake Michigan.

A major milestone was marked at Waukegan's Old North Harbor on Feb. 20, 1997, with the removal of signs warning anglers not to eat fish caught in the harbor because of possible contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Removal of the signs marked the end of nearly two decades of restrictions imposed after contamination of the harbor was identified in 1981.

Fish in the harbor are now in the same consumption categories applied to all Lake Michigan fish.

Officials from Waukegan, the Lake County Health Department, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and members of the Citizens' Advisory Group (CAG) for the harbor took part in ceremonies celebrating the sign removal.

Illinois EPA Director Mary A. Gade hailed the cleanup progress signified by removal of the signs, saying "Several years ago we celebrated the removal of more than one million pounds of PCBs in harbor sediments. Today, we mark another milestone with the removal of the fish consumption warning signs. Our fish sampling program since the sediment cleanup has shown that the harbor is no longer a significant source of PCBs in Lake Michigan fish.

"The Illinois EPA remains committed to working with the local community to restore full beneficial uses of the harbor and the lakefront," she said.

Removal of Waukegan Harbor Sign

Jim Park, chief of the Illinois EPA's Bureau of Water, left, and Chuck Isely, chairman of the Waukegan Harbor Citizens' Advisory Group, show their pleasure in removing a sign that warned anglers against eating fish caught in the North Harbor because of contamination.

Action coincides with new more precise fish consumption guidelines.

Rescinding restrictions on Waukegan Harbor fish consumption coincides with the adoption of expanded, more precise guidelines for eating all Lake Michigan fish. New guidelines add two categories to the existing three advisory levels.

Previous advisories classified fish in one of three categories: unlimited consumption (no restriction), do-not-eat, or eat no more than once-a-week. Newly added classifications recommend one meal a month or one meal every two months for certain kinds and sizes of Lake Michigan fish.

Removal of the warning signs follows removal of approximately one million pounds of PCB-contaminated soil from the harbor in 1992.

Subsequent monitoring of fish from both the harbor and Lake Michigan has shown no appreciable difference in PCB concentrations in fish from the harbor and those from the open lake.

Waukegan North Harbor has been designated an Area of Concern (AOC) by the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes, U.S. EPA and the Illinois EPA, under a U.S.-Canadian agreement that requires this designation when conditions exist on the Great Lakes that have caused or are likely to cause impairment of beneficial uses.

Work is now underway identifying other needed cleanups in the vinicity of the harbor and the near-shore area. Efforts in Waukegan illustrate one of the first AOCs to actually demonstrate environmental benefits resulting from a cleanup.

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