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Kalamazoo River

Hazardous Waste Site | Allegan & Kalamazoo Counties, MI | 1950s to Present

What Happened?

Paper mills conducting carbonless copy paper recycling released PCBs polychlorinated biphenyls; a class of chemicals previously used in manufacturing that remain in the environment for many decades, accumulate in living creatures, and pose health hazards to humans, wildlife, and fish. into the Kalamazoo River from the late 1950s through the early 1970s. EPAU.S. Environmental Protection Agency; federal agency with the mission to protect human health and safeguard the environment.’s cleanup efforts are ongoing.

What Were the Impacts?

PCBs from the site have contaminated water, sediments, and floodplain soils across approximately 80 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Impacts extend downstream from the Morrow Dam, as well as to the lower three miles of Portage Creek. PCB concentrations in sediment, surface water, and fish throughout the area exceed levels known to impair reproduction and growth in bald eagles and other birds, bottom-dwelling invertebrates, fish, and mink.

Consumption advisoriesFederal, state, or local government recommendations to avoid eating certain fish or shellfish because unsafe due to high levels of contamination. are in effect for all fish in the affected area, and several species are considered unsafe for human consumption.

What’s Happening Now?

NOAA and other trusteesGovernment officials acting on behalf of the public when there is injury to, destruction of, loss of, or threat to natural resources. are providing technical support to EPA to ensure that cleanup of contaminated areas is protective of the environment.

Restoration activities are ongoing:

  • A Draft Restoration Plan was finalized in August 2013 for the Portage Creek and Allied Paper Landfill portion of the site.
  • In December 2016 a Final Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was approved. This plan lays out a suite of habitat restoration actions that we believe will most effectively compensate the public for losses caused by releases of PCBs in the River. The scale of restoration activity that will be implemented will depend upon the resolution of natural resource damage claims with the parties responsible for PCB releases.  

We have also helped design a long-term monitoring program for the river to detect levels of PCBs in fish and wildlife over time.

As part of the final restoration plans, an included projects was removal of the Alcott Dam in the Kalamazoo watershed. The project opened up Portage Creek for fish to move up and down stream through an additional 1.5 miles of habitat that was previously unreachable. Along with the dam removal, the project also restored habitat in and along Portage Creek. Additionally, roughly 3,000 feet of the creek upstream of the former dam was enhanced with new rocky shallow areas and native plants along the banks and surrounding wetland areas.

In December 2019, a Consent Decree was announced  and in December 2020 the $25 million partial settlement to restore the Kalamazoo River and Portage Creek was entered.

NOAA and co-trustees will use settlement funds to plan and complete environmental restoration projects.  Restoration projects will be selected with public input. The Trustees invite interested parties to suggest habitat and recreational restoration project ideas to be considered as planning proceeds.

Project ideas can be submitted at the Trustees’ online portal. Ideas for the first round of project evaluation were accepted until March 18, 2020. Project ideas submitted after that date will be considered in future evaluation rounds.

Click here to submit a restoration project idea.

Two kayakers on a lush green river.
Kayakers on the Kalamazoo River, Michigan. Image credit: NOAA.


Julie Sims
NOAA Restoration Center
Ann Arbor, MI  48108
(734) 680-5671

Greg Baker
NOAA Assessment and Restoration Division
Menlo Park, CA 94025
(650) 329-5048

Last updated December 3, 2020