EPA studying herbicide
in watershed (Atrazine)
Lake Michigan harbors contaminants
from farms, cities
By WAYNE FALDA
South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND -- The St. Joseph River weaves through five
counties in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana while
it drains a 3,662-square-mile watershed area.
As it makes its way on a 210-mile journey to Lake Michigan,
the river picks up man-made contaminants from both agricultural
and urban sources.
The primary farm pesticide that drains into the river
is atrazine, a commonly used herbicide that is now used
on more than 70 percent of U.S. farms since its introduction
in the late 1960s. About 60 million pounds a year are
applied on primarily acres planted to corn.
Lake Michigan's waters now contain about 410,000 pounds
of atrazine, according to Russell Kreis Jr., a branch
chief with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He
spoke Monday afternoon during a conference on the St.
Joseph River Watershed.
The St. Joseph River and its tributaries carry the more
atrazine into Lake Michigan than any other river system
in Indiana, Michigan or Wisconsin, according to data taken
from a recent Lake Michigan Mass Balance Study.
"Atrazine levels will increase in Lake Michigan over
time," Kreis said.
While the EPA does not link atrazine to cancer, there
is some evidence to support a belief that atrazine can
cause neurological damage, especially in parts of the
brain called the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
Atrazine levels in the St. Joe fluctuate, with the highest
levels occurring after heavy springtime rains.
Lake Michigan's tributaries continuously feed atrazine
into the lake's waters. But when the herbicide is mixed
with the lake's waters, the concentration levels fall
well below the EPA's tolerance thresholds for humans as
well as lake organisms, Kreis said.
"At the present time, (atrazine) is being evaluated by
the EPA," he said.
Cities along the river and its tributaries do not discharge
atrazine, but they do send millions of gallons of sewage
water that contains E. coli bacteria whenever rainfall
exceeds the ability of city municipal waste water treatment
plants to handle the waste.
The city of Goshen is embarking this summer on a 20-year
program to greatly reduce or eliminate its discharge of
sewage into the Elkhart River, a major tributary of the
The effort will cost about $40 million over that time,
said Brandon Koltz, a project engineer with Triad Engineering
Inc., which is redesigning the city's sewer system.
Between 25 and 30 times a year, heavy rains overtax the
city's combined sewer system, which dumps waste water
directly into the Elkhart River through six large outflow
Of greatest concern to city residents is the outflow
located at Shanklin Park, a popular gathering place for
families and children.
The first project to separate the city's discharge at
the park begins this summer with the reconstruction of
Third Street near downtown Goshen. A new storm sewer system
costing between $4.5 million and $5 million is part of
that project, Koltz said.
By re-routing the sewer system away from Shanklin Park,
the city expects to nearly eliminate its discharge into
the river. The new sewer system would pipe waste water
to a large concrete control structure at Wilkinson Street
and First Street.
"Most of (the benefits) will be felt between that stretch
of the Elkhart River between Goshen and Elkhart," Koltz