The Torch Lake Area of Concern (AOC) is located on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and includes Torch Lake and the surrounding watershed.
This site has been identified as an AOC by the International Joint Commission, a body with representatives from both the U.S. and Canada and which has responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the Great Water Quality Agreement of 1978. The Torch Lake AOC is one of 43 such sites within the Great Lakes identified by the IJC. Our initial review of the Torch Lake AOC shows that there are relatively few impairments to beneficial uses associated with the site.
The lake itself is about 4 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, encompassing approximately 2,700 acres. Several small communities lie along the western edge of Torch Lake, including Lake Linden, Hubbel, and Mason. The area surrounding Torch Lake was once the scene of intensive copper mining, and the effects of mining activities can still be seen, with the most visible reminders being the tailings deposited along the shore of Torch Lake and the surrounding waterway.
The site came to the attention of environmental protection agencies in the 1970s. At that time, the discovery of tumors in fish raised concerns. These tumors included abnormal growths on the skin and livers of walleye and sauger. As a result, the Michigan Department of Health issued a fish consumption advisory on these two species in 1983. Soon after, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed the site on its Superfund list, and the IJC designated the site as an AOC. No causative agent was ever found for the tumors. In addition, the advisory was lifted in 1989 after fish samples indicated that the tumors were no longer present.
Currently, a Public Advisory Council (PAC) has been formed for the Torch Lake AOC for the purpose of drafting a Remedial Action Plan (RAP), which is required as part of the AOC process. This RAP will review the fourteen beneficial use impairments outlined in the AOC process.