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Torch Lake

Contact Information

U.S. EPA RAP Liaison
Brenda R. Jones
(jones.brenda@epa.gov)

State RAP Contact:
Sharon Baker, RAP Contact
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Water Bureau
P.O. Box 30273
Lansing, MI 48909-7773
Tel: (517) 335-3310
Fax: (517) 373-9958
Email: BAKERSL@michigan.gov

Torch Lake Public Advisory Council:
Dave Jukuri, Chair
1100 Century Way
P.O. Box 97
Houghton, MI 49931
Tel: (906) 482-0001
Fax: (906) 482-1310
Email: c21ncah@up.net

Dan Lorenzetti, Secretary
100 Isle Royal Sands
Houghton, MI 49931
Tel: (906) 482-2731
Fax: (906) 482-49931
Email: Dan@superiorblock.com

Local Coordinator:
James Trevethan, SPAC Representative
17463 Osma Plat Road
Houghton, MI 49931
Tel: (906) 482-4951

Frequent Acronyms

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Torch Lake AoC Boundary Map

Torch Lake AOC Boundary Map (PDF) (1pg, 658K)

Torch Lake shape file (ZIP) (15K)

Background

Torch Lake became an Area of Concern (AOC) due to fish tumors of unknown origin which resulted in fish consumption advisories. The 1987 RAP document identified three Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) for the Torch Lake AOC. Fish Tumors; Degraded Benthos; Fish Consumption Advisories.

The Torch Lake Area of Concern is located on the Keweenaw Peninsula within Houghton County on the northwestern shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and on Lake Superior’s southern shore. The region is locally known as the Copper Country. Deposits of native (elemental) copper are found in the Portage Lakes Lava Series, a long narrow bedrock formation which extends from the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula southwest to the Michigan-Wisconsin border covering a distance of over one hundred miles.

Copper-bearing ore on the Keweenaw Peninsula contains copper in its native or natural metallic form. For this reason, it has been a source of copper for people for thousands of years. More recently, it is the waste products from the industrial milling, smelting, and leaching operations of the mined copper bearing ore that have created the present environmental concern. These industrial processes began during the 1840s and continued for more than a century until all mining and related operations ceased in 1968. Those processes left stamp sands and slags deposited either on the surface of the surrounding landscape or in adjacent lakes and streams. Portions of the surficial materials eroded into nearby waterbodies.

It is estimated that more than 10.5 billion pounds of copper were produced in the Copper Country between the mid-1840s and 1968. Half of this output was processed at sites scattered across the Copper Country landscape. The remainder was processed along the western shoreline of Torch Lake, a 2,700 acre body of water in Houghton County. About 200 million tons of copper ore tailings were deposited in Torch Lake, displacing about 20 percent of the lake’s original volume (MDNR 1987).

The Torch Lake Area of Concern Boundary was described in the 1987 Torch Lake Remedial Action Plan (RAP) document "…..Torch Lake and its immediate environs." Immediate environs can be described as those areas along the shore of Torch Lake proper where wastes from the production of copper contributed directly to the contaminate loadings of Torch Lake. These areas had stamp sands and water quenched slags dumped on the shore and into the lake during the copper production process. The AOC boundary was formally agreed to by the Torch Lake Public Advisory Council (TLPAC), U.S. EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in 2005.

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Beneficial Use Impairments

The 1987 RAP document identified three Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) for the Torch Lake AOC:

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Delisting Targets

The Torch Lake AOC Public Advisory Council has requested that the State of Michigan begin the AOC delisting process for their AOC. A technical committee was developed comprised of staff from state and federal agencies and the PAC. The technical committee determined to use delisting criteria based on the recently released Guidance for Delisting Michigan’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern (PDF 508Kb 61 pages) Exit disclaimer document, released January 2006.

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RAP Development and Status

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RAP Implementation

Remedial Actions
The Torch Lake Area of Concern included four of 14 Superfund Areas that were divided into operable units (OU). Two of three OUs, i.e. OU 1 and OU2, as designated under the two Superfund Record of Decisions, were applicable to the Torch Lake Area of Concern. These were:

The selected remedy for OU 1 was to cover with soil and seed down to prevent erosional actions by wind and water. Remedial actions for the Torch Lake Superfund Site were completed by September 2005. Some parcels have already been deleted from the National Priorities List (NPL). Once all parcels are deleted, planned for 2008, the state will assume Operation and Maintenance of the areas which includes long term monitoring of all OUs. Under the ROD for OU 2, natural attenuation was the selected remedy for the lakes. OU 2 has been deleted from the NPL.

Current projects and outlook

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RAP-Related Publications

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Community Involvement

Public election of the members of the Torch Lake Public Advisory Council (TLPAC) took place in the spring of 1997. In less than one year the group adopted its by-laws, mission statement, goals and objectives, and incorporated as a tax-exempt, nonprofit Michigan corporation. It has received contributions from local governments, businesses, environmental groups, and private individuals to help defray logistical expenses. In addition, TLAPAC has been awarded over $24,000 from agency grants and private foundations.

Currently, there are seven schools within the AOC that have instituted Adopt-A-Stream projects. The Keweenaw Waterway Trail Association, in cooperation with local and state agencies, has developed a series of low-impact boating campsites along the waterway.

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Photos

Mason Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AoC after remediation

Mason Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AOC after remediation

Mason Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AoC before remediation

Mason Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AOC before remediation

Mason Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AoC after Superfund remediation. Note dredge and smelter leftover from the copper mining days

Mason Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AOC after Superfund remediation. Note dredge and smelter leftover from the copper mining days.

Hubbell/Tamarack City Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AoC during remediation

Hubbell/Tamarack City Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AOC during remediation

Hubbell/Tamarack City Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AoC after remediation

Hubbell/Tamarack City Stamp Sand Parcel of Torch Lake AOC after remediation

Small mammal survey results show wildlife is quite abundant on newly revegetated stamp sands

Wildlife abounds on the newly vegetated stamp sands of Torch Lake AOC. Small mammal survey results show wildlife is quite abundant on newly revegetated stamp sands compared to unremediated stamp sands where we did not find any wildlife at all.

Wildlife abounds on the newly vegetated stamp sands of Torch Lake AoC

Wildlife abounds on the newly vegetated stamp sands of Torch Lake AOC. Small mammal survey results show wildlife is quite abundant on newly revegetated stamp sands compared to unremediated stamp sands where we did not find any wildlife at all.


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