By: Susan Smith
On December 6, 2002 the EPA upgraded the environmental status of Presque Isle Bay, located on the southern shore of Lake Erie in the northwestern corner of PA, to an “area of concern in recovery stage” from the previous designation of “area of concern”. This marks the first time in the United States that a Great Lakes area of concern has been upgraded to the recovery status.
The International Joint Commission, the joint U.S.- Canadian body that assists governments in the management of the Great Lakes, listed Presque Isle Bay as an area of concern in 1991 when sediment contamination was linked to fish tumors and restrictions on dredging activities. Most of the Presque Isle Bay watershed comprises urban and industrial areas within the city of Erie and Millcreek Township.
Presque Isle Bay’s designation came as a result of a petition from Erie area residents in 1988. The designation meant the bay was so polluted it required attention. Recent studies indicate that the incidence of fish tumors has dropped dramatically since the early 1990s and sediments have proven less toxic than originally believed.
The redesignation as an area of concern in a recovery stage — commonly referred to as an area of recovery — recognizes the improvements in the bay’s health.“We are delighted that EPA has approved the formal request that we made a few months ago in Erie,” DEP Secretary David E. Hess said. “We made the recommendation after Erie area citizens and DEP agreed that the environmental health of Presque Isle Bay has significantly improved over the past decade. This is great news for a community that has worked to bring attention to the bay’s problems and is now able to celebrate some success.”
“The redesignation does not mean that we can or should let up in any way with our efforts to improve the environmental quality of the area,” he said. “No one should be fooled into thinking that Erie no longer has any concerns about its environmental quality, but we should be proud of the progress that has been made,” said Gannon University Professor Rick Diz, the immediate past chairman of the Presque Isle Bay Public Advisory Committee.
“Our work is not done,” Secretary Hess said. “Under EPA guidelines, the new status calls for a pollution prevention plan and a monitoring program to reduce the risk of future degradation to ensure that the recovery continues.” Hess termed it a “historic milestone.”
Presque Isle Bay becomes the first area of concern to achieve recovery designation — a new designation accepted by the EPA to show improvement and considered a major first step toward eventual delisting. EPA’s requirements for the redesignation include a pollution prevention plan and a monitoring program to reduce risk of future degradation and ensure the recovery continues. To date, only one of the 43 areas of concern designated by the International Joint Commission — Collingwood Harbour in Ontario — has been delisted.