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Environment & Energy

Lake Erie Toxic Mass Could Threaten Cleveland's Drinking Water

Picture of Bryan Stubbs, Cleveland Water Alliance
KEVIN NIEDERMIER
/
WKSU

A large mass of toxic sediment at the bottom of Lake Erie off Cleveland’s shore could threaten the area’s drinking water supply. The 2-square-mile mass containing PCBs and other contaminants is creeping toward one of city’s water intake pipes. As WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports, the mass is still miles away from the intake, but the city and the Ohio EPA have stepped up monitoring efforts.            

The untreated material was dredged from the Cuyahoga River’s shipping channel and dumped in the lake before the 1972 Clean Water Act, which banned the practice.

Bryan Stubbs is head of the Cleveland Water Alliance, which promotes the regional economic benefits of the lake’s water. He says Cleveland’s water intake system can be adjusted to avoid the sediment and the toxins can be treated, but both are very expensive options. He says better protection of this water source is needed.

“Water and the water industry will be a significant driver. We need to get in front of this and, one, to let people know we have a really redundant, resilient system. But with that being said, any more chemicals, any legacy issues going into that lake is unacceptable.”  

Cleveland water department officials stress that the water is safe to drink. The Ohio EPA is fighting an Army Corps of Engineer’s plan to dump newly dredged Cuyahoga River sediment, which it says is not highly toxic, into the lake. Opponents dispute the corps claim, and say the sediment should be put into on-shore containment facilities.