By Megan McDonnell
The St. Clair River that connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair has a long history of environmental problems.
They are challenges as diverse as E. coli bacteria that shut down beaches, industrial pollution by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury contamination so severe that residents are advised to limit their consumption of locally caught fish.
In recent years cleanup and sediment remediation projects have vastly improved the river and it is beginning to flourish once again.
The 39-mile long river separates Sarnia, Ontario, and Port Huron, Michigan.
It provides drinking water to several riverside communities on both sides of the border.
“About one-third to one-half of the residents of Michigan get water from the St. Clair River-Detroit River waterway,” according to the Michigan-based Blueways of St. Clair, a federally-funded group that maps water paths and access points in southeast Michigan’s St. Clair County.
Industrial discharge from Dow Chemical Canada Inc.’s Sarnia-Lambton manufacturing complex heavily polluted the river’s sediment. Dow’s cleanup efforts by vacuuming contaminated sediment near its facility have not solved the problem, according to Friends of the St. Clair River, a Canadian nonprofit environmental organization.
One of the biggest polluted hotspots still on the river is the Shell Canada fuel dock, a cargo ship fueling station across the street from Shell’s Sarnia Manufacturing Centre.
The bottom of the river under the dock still contains high levels of PCBs and mercury from sediment moving downstream from the contaminated Dow site, according to the group. The organisms that live in this bottom layer of the river are exposing the fish that eat them to mercury.
The polluted sediment is due to downstream discharge from the Dow plant and not from Shell Canada, according to Darrell Randell, president of Friends of the St. Clair River.
Environment and Climate Change Canada, a federal agency,, has tested the effects from the contamination. Such efforts include collecting turtles and their eggs to determine birth defects and testing fish to see how pollution affects their taste. No abnormal eggs or fish have been reported, according to Friends of the St. Clair River.
Randell said a plan to dredge the area and remove the sediment is in the works between Dow and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
There have been more than 280 fish and aquatic wildlife habitat restoration projects on the St. Clair River, 12 of which were shoreline restoration projects. More are planned, according to the group.