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Water Management Associations
Military Waste Dumped into Lake Superior
Do more than 1,000 barrels of military waste dumped into Lake Superior more than 50 years ago pose a threat to fish, aquatic, plant, and human life? That’s the $10,000 question the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is trying to answer regarding barrels of military waste that lie in waters ceded to the Tribe under treaties signed by the U.S. government.

When asked how the barrels— totaling 400 tons—got into the lake, Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program (NALEMP) Coordinator Gary Defoe Jr. of the Red Lake Band said between 1959-62 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used barges to haul the waste at night and sink the sealed industrial steel barrels in water anywhere from 65 to 400 feet in an area extending from Duluth to Larsmont. It is believed 1,437 55-gallon barrels filled with unwanted product from the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant were pitched into the Duluth harbor.

In 2012 the band retrieved 25 barrels from the lake bottom, and what they discovered was a shock to everyone involved. Ejection cup assemblies for BLU-4 cluster bombs were found in 22 of the 25 barrels. After examining the propellant, they were found to contain a potential carcinogen, and just what effect this might have on fish or plants needs to be tested further.

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