Area of Concern

The United States and Canada created the Areas of Concern Program in 1987 under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Fourteen of the 43 sites in the Great Lakes are in Michigan, and 12 are currently active.

Michigan’s AOC program works with federal and local partners to restore these sites affected by legacy contamination and development.

AOC staff members work with partners to remove contaminants from river and lake bottoms, restore fish and wildlife habitat, monitor environmental health, and fix problems created by pollution. These problems are labeled “beneficial use impairments” (BUIs), which must meet specific standards to be removed.

Sources of Pollution in Torch Lake

Torch Lake is a 2,700-acre lake that received approximately 200 million tons of copper ore tailings from the eight mineral processing mills that operated between the late 1860s and 1968.

The sources of pollution in Torch Lake are mine waste (known locally as stamp sands) which includes copper and other heavy metals, mineral processing chemicals, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs), and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Torch Lake AOC boundary map. Image Credit: Michigan EGLE

Beneficial Use Impairments

The AOC program measures success through the resolution of Beneficial Use Impairments at a site. Torch Lake has two beneficial use impairments that prevent it from being removed from the AOC list.

  1. Fish Contamination
    • Mercury and PCBs are stored in the fatty tissues fish in Torch Lake. Fish caught in Torch Lake should not be consumed.
  2. Degraded Benthic Community
    • The benthos is the plants and animals found in the sediment of the lakebed. The benthic community in Torch Lake is sparse, but increasing at the mouth of the Trap Rock River at the northern end of the lake, and along the eastern shoreline. Along the western shoreline where the mills were located, the benthic community is nearly nonexistent.

Area of Concern Site Manager

Stephanie Swart
Telephone: 517-284-5046
email: swarts@michigan.gov