Abandoned Mining Wastes Project
This web page is intended to provide residents and other interested parties with information regarding recent and on-going investigations and response activities related to historic mining-related industrial operations along the western shoreline of Torch Lake. The work is being conducted by the DEQ Remediation and Redevelopment Division’s Upper Peninsula District Office.
This project presents a unique and complex setting for environmental investigation and risk management. It has been the subject of numerous studies and response activities over the last 30 years, but a comprehensive evaluation of environmental issues, implemented response actions, remaining risks, and future needs have not been undertaken until recently.
Copper mining was extensive in the Keweenaw from the mid-1800s and formed the backbone of the regional economy and society. Copper ore milling and smelting operations were conducted from the mid-1860s to the 1960s, including the importation and reprocessing and smelting of various scrap metals in the later years of operation. Consistent with past industrial practices, Torch Lake served as dumping grounds for virtually all mining industry related waste products produced, including tailings, slag, and various chemicals. It is estimated that at least 20 percent of the Torch Lake's volume was filled with tailings and other waste products.
The environmental legacy resulting from over 100 years of mining led to Torch Lake and its western shoreline to be designated as a superfund site by the US EPA and a Great Lakes Area of Concern by the US/Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The US EPA undertook cleanup activities to address some of the byproducts of the mining industry while others were not addressed or left to recover through natural processes.
The DEQ is addressing some of the remaining concerns in Houghton County not addressed by the US EPA’s Torch Lake Superfund Site project. The focus is on mining-era wastes, chemical containers and residues historically discarded in or near Torch Lake that include:
- Significant in-lake and/or terrestrial sources of contamination including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs);
- Uncharacterized waste deposits, including more than 750 drums, reportedly located on the lake bottom;
- Bulk disposal areas, including dumps, debris piles and landfills; and,
- Industrial ruins, including former coal storage areas, underground storage tanks, asbestos containing building materials, and any other waste materials.
Maps and Web-based Data Viewer
Review the User Guide to the data viewer.
The Abandoned Mining Wastes Project Data Viewer is operated by the DEQ. The purpose of the data viewer is to enhance stakeholder engagement through transparent information sharing.
The data viewer provides access to an enormous amount of highly technical information that may not be relevant to all stakeholders. GIS tools work with a comprehensive database to help make information easy to find. The intelligent links between maps, data and records make this application powerful yet easy to use for experienced and trained personnel.
The Abandoned Mining Wastes web page also summarizes the details of this information. You may also obtain more traditional documents if you choose not to utilize the data viewer.
Before you use the application it is recommended that you review the User Guide. The data viewer allows users to view information about environmental contamination along the western shore line of Torch Lake being investigated by the DEQ. Information includes: soil, sediment, and groundwater analytical results with comparisons to applicable regulatory cleanup criteria.
Note that the evaluation provided in the data viewer is based on MDEQ Criteria at the time of Project completion and that samples described in the evaluation may actually refer to stamp sands or to other mining waste from the historic mining and reclamation processes conducted in the area.
Abandoned Mining Wastes Project Area
Due to the complex nature and very large area the areas being addressed were prioritized as follows and are depicted on the map: Calumet & Hecla Lake Linden Operations Area (CHLL), C&H Tamarack City Operations Area (CHTC), Quincy Mining Company Mason Operations Area (QMCM), Quincy Mining Company Portage Operations Area (QMCP), Centennial Mine, Michigan Smelter and Freda/Redridge.