James McCarty of The Plain Dealer recently reported on a "mass of toxic sediment"
in Lake Erie that's long been migrating toward shore. The story posed health-related questions about the quality of our local drinking water and about the ecology of the lake. On Monday afternoon, Cleveland Water leadership appeared for a press conference on the matter, brushing aside drinking water concerns.
"First and foremost, the water is safe," Scott Moegling, water quality manager for Cleveland Water, said today. "We've tested the water. We have no concerns with the raw water quality or with the finished water quality from our Nottingham plant."
Indeed, the Nottingham treatment plant and its intake valve were a point of focus in McCarty's article. The sediment mass is about five miles away from shore, though Cleveland Water officials will not say precisely where the Nottingham intake valve is located, citing security concerns.
If the sediment does migrate closer to shore — and historical trends show that it likely will — Moegling said that Cleveland Water has "more than adequate treatment — nothing special, just a little bit more than we normally do" — to counteract the sediment's toxicity.
But, as Cleveland Water Commissioner Alex Margevicius pointed out, there are indeed broader concerns at play here. Via McCarty:
Recent tests of the sediment, located in a section of lake bottom known as Area 1, found alarmingly high concentrations of PCBs and PAHs — both highly toxic pollutants and 100 percent fatal to aquatic organisms such as worms, crustaceans and insects that live in the soil and provide vital food for fish.
The dumping predated the Clean Water Act of 1972, during a time when industrial waste was being dredged from the Cuyahoga River and trucked out into open waters. That waste, you'll recall, played a role in the river catching fire
several times before 1972. (Dredged waste has since been stored in lakefront dikes, McCarty notes.)
This current mass of sediment is a reminder, however, that the past will always catch up to the present. The problems that it may pose go well beyond the already very important question of clean drinking water, and affect the health of the entire lake.
The Ohio EPA and Cleveland Water will continue to monitor the mass. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Great Lakes division, asked by the Ohio EPA to take action, is continuing to discuss the matter internally and with the state organization.