Updated: September 12, 2012 5:59PM
They passed out mini-silver buckets the other day at the Waukegan lakefront to celebrate getting rid of what should be the last of the PCBs in the city’s harbor. We can only hope, considering we’ve followed this story for more than 35 years.
Federal, state and local officials have joined forces in a Superfund dredging project needed to remove Waukegan Harbor from a list of Great Lakes toxic hot spots. On the list since 1987 and once called “the world’s worst PCB mess,” environmentalists are calling this one of the best coastal turnaround stories along the Great Lakes.
Last year, federal environmental agencies said they would prioritize the Waukegan Harbor cleanup, which remains the only Illinois site on the U.S. EPA radar. They made good on their dredge pledge this election year.
The U.S. EPA is sinking $48 million in the dredging project toward the final cleanup of Waukegan Harbor. It is one of four cleanup projects associated with the old Outboard Marine Corp., lakefront sites, legacies of Waukegan’s heavy industrial past.
The project will remove approximately 175,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment from the harbor. Dredging will begin later this month and is expected to be finished by next summer, a total of about 120 days.
Contaminated polychlorinated biphenyl sediment from OMC’s Johnson Outboard manufacturing plant was first discovered in the harbor in 1975. The chemicals are bad for humans, bad for fish in Lake Michigan.
It’s been decades in the making, but it finally appears the city’s lakefront is being turned back to before industry was sited below the Waukegan bluffs. Many believe the cleanup can transform the harbor into a powerful economic engine in the region.
That may be true down the line, but the task at hand is scrubbing the harbor bottom for a cleaner lake for future generations.