St. Clair River health improving ‘step by step’ officials say lead

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Heather Brouwer/The Independent

St. Clair River is getting closer to getting a clean bill of health.
Natasha Pozega, coordinator for the St. Clair River Canadian Remedial Action Plan, provided an update to St. Clair Township council at its Feb. 7 meeting saying the river is moving closer to being delisted as an Area of Concern.
The St. Clair River was identified as an Area of Concern in 1987 due to environmental degradation, and a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) was developed to address the ecological harm and restore the waterway.
One of the more important moves was the clean up of 13,300 cubic meters of mercury contaminated sediment by Dow Chemicals in 2002. But there was still work to do. There has also been a 75 per cent reduction as municipalities separate their water and sewer systems from the river.
An initial assessment was completed in 1991, and of 14 potential indicators of environmental health – called Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) – a dozen were deemed impaired.
“Environmental damage was quite significant and water quality conditions were quite poor,” said Pozega.
“Through the implementation of the remedial action plan over the past 30 years, significant progress has been made.”
Since then, seven of the BUIs have been redesignated to ‘not impaired,’ leaving four that are deemed ‘impaired’ and one that ‘requires further assessment.’
That comes as several studies show that fish and wildlife populations in the area are similar to or better than populations found outside the area of concern.
Studies have also shown local and lake wide fish tumour data was assessed and revealed no indication of impairment.
Pozega told St. Clair council that a report on the river’s drinking water quality was accepted earlier this month by the Canadian Remedial Action Plan Implementation Committee.
“So, it is actually going to be entering the redesignation process in the coming months.”
In addition to the progress on drinking water, an engineering and design plan was developed in 2021 to address three remaining areas of mercury contaminated sediment in the river – at Guthrie Park, Froomfield, and the industrial docks – using an erosion-resistant cover, consisting of fine gravel.
Another ongoing program is a fish consumption survey, which fishers in the St. Clair River are being asked to fill out online or by phone.
“We’re moving the yardstick forward step by step,” said Pozega.