NEENAH, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker praised the pace of PCB cleanup at the Lower Fox River on Thursday, saying continued progress could lead officials to lift restrictions on eating walleye from the waterway.
Walker cited recent water monitoring that showed lower levels of the toxic chemical than expected. PCB levels in walleye fish were down 73 percent in Lake Butte des Morts, where cleanup began in 2004.
“This is a great milestone in the recovery of a river that’s such an important economic engine and natural resource for this region and our state,” Walker said in a statement.
If the same level is confirmed next year, the PCB advisory for walleye would be relaxed for the stretch of river extending about six miles from the outlet of Lake Winnebago to the upper Appleton Dam. Relaxing the advisory would mean officials thought the fish was safe to eat.
The river had been heavily contaminated by toxic chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a byproduct of paper manufacturing. About 350 tons were discharged into the Fox River from 1954 to 1971. The chemicals cause cancer in wildlife and are a likely carcinogen for humans.
Several paper companies are paying for the cleanup, which is being overseen by state and federal officials. Cleanup efforts continue on four other segments of the river, which stretch from the Little Rapids dam to the mouth of the river at Green Bay.
The cleanup project involves dredging the PCB-contaminated sediment on the bottom of the river and shipping it to a processing facility where it is treated and sent to a landfill. Water is cleaned and returned to the river. In other areas, sediment is being capped and covered on the bottom of the river to hold PCBs in place.
According to Walker’s office, the average PCB levels in the sediment in the project area have been reduced by 94 percent.