Detroit River Environmental Issues

Lake Erie while one of the smallest of the Great Lakes, it is home to historically major population centers such is Cleveland OH, Buffalo NY, and Detroit MI. While these cities currently have a notorious reputation which are unfavorable in their light. Historically, these cities have been the backbone of the infrastructure and economy of American society. However, these cities entered an era of deindustrialization, and the lasting implications the industrial age have detrimentally contributed to the AOCs found around the lake.

Industrialization and Pollution

Cleveland OH, historically a blue-collar city, in the 1970s and 80s experienced the worst of the Rustbelt: deindustrializing. The city experienced population loss, rising poverty, and detreating homes and lands. (Holly, Warf, 1997) The most notorious AOC found around Cleveland would be the Cuyahoga river. Generally, the large body of water and surrounding area provides vast amounts of natural resources such a quality drinking water, natural fish and wildlife, and arable farming land. Cleveland especially has used the lake water for the production of steel.

In the late 1870s After John D. Rockefellers Standard Oil Corporation moved, the steal industry became an economic powerhouse of Cleveland. Its geological location allowed industries to be convenient access to Lake Superior’s iron ore. Hence, the overproduction of steal lead to contamination issues into the Cuyahoga river and the burning of the river in 1969. Today, the river has improved but some of the river is still designed impaired under the Clean Water Act. Nonetheless, there is still a lot of work to do in order to restore the river as best as possible.

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Buffalo has been attractive because of its geographical point for water and rail transportation. In the late 1800s, industries began to form around the Buffalo area. First, the river was used as a navigable channel for incoming supplies and products. Second, it was used for cooling purposes. Third, it was a convenient source for industrial waste and rail transportation. (Rosi, 1996) There are three main pollutant sources to the Buffalo River: runoff, population, and industry; but industry served to my the main polluter. The history of chemical industries were best described in 1879, when J.F. Schoellkopf founded the Schoellkopf Aniline and Chemical Company. By 1933, a second chemical company, Buffalo Chemical Works, was established by Kalbfleisch and Sons; by 1910 the name of the company changed to General Chemical Works. (Rossi, 1996) It can be expected that this era represented the worst of the pollution contributed to the Buffalo River. They employed direct and non-point discharge practices of liquid wastes into the Buffalo river, and the result included heavy metal sludges containing iron, lead, chromium, zinc, copper, arsenic, mercury and cobalt, to pile on the tip of the peninsula for decades. (Rossi, 1996) While the Buffalo River is now healthier, it still remains an active AOC and it remains to be seen if the river will ever return to its natural state.

Historically, the Detroit River was abundant in natural resources. For instance, wild rice provided a source of trade for the Indians who establish a settlement near the city of Wyandotte in 1650s. (Edsall, 1998) Fish and wildlife were also the main industry along the river, Native Americans began trading with the Europeans. Americans later came around 1740s near the west bank, which lead to a series of battles between the British and the United States. (Edsall, 1998) Finally, population growth and the use of land intensified after 1910, industrial development of heavy steel, chemical, and refining industries dominated the area and by 1930s the automobile industry rapidly grew. During this Era post 1910 the Detroit River rapidly deteriorated, compared to the other connecting channels and in the Upper Great Lakes, sediments in the Detroit River are heavily polluted with hazardous and toxic substances, including high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls or (PCBs) and heavy metals. The Detroit River is still and active an AOC and the concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls remain in the river today.

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Detroit River Environmental Issues. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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