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Abandoned Mining Wastes

Black and White Aerial Photograph of Torch Lake
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

Abandoned Mining Wastes


Amy Keranen

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 EGLE 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.

EGLE 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.

Abandoned Mining Wastes

Review the User Guide to the data viewer.

The data viewer allows users to view information about environmental contamination along the western shore line of Torch Lake being investigated by EGLE. Note that the evaluation provided in the data viewer is based on EGLE 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.

Launch the Abandoned Mining Wastes Map Data Viewer

Abandoned Mining Wastes - Project Areas

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.

Enlarged Map of the Abandoned Mining Wastes Project Area

Ripley 2021 Julio Scrapyard Cleanup

A cooperative investigation and site cleanup effort between EGLE RRD and EPA’s Emergency Response Branch during 2019-2021, resulted in hazardous substances being removed from the nearby recreational trail area of the Julio Scrapyard in Ripley.  This summary report for the trail portion of the site gives a good overview of the interim response actions during this timeframe.

The DNR Ripley Recreation Trail Interim Response Report

Enlarged Map of the Julio Scrapyard Cleanup