Clean Water

The diverse ecosystems, working
landscapes, and vibrant communities
that inspire and sustain us depend on
clean water. Learn about pollution
reduction strategies.

Healthy Habitats
Connect Us All

Lakeshores, stream banks, and wetlands are critical to clean
water and biodiversity. Learn about efforts to improve
habitat connectivity in the Basin ecosystem.

We Care for
What We Know

Recreation fosters stewardship of the Basin’s rich
natural and cultural heritage by connecting people
to the landscape while supporting local economies.
Learn about ways to explore the Basin.

Informed Citizens
Make Wiser Choices

Citizens who have an understanding and
appreciation of water resources make informed
choices about actions that might contribute to
pollution. Learn about education programs.

    Water & Environment

    Did You Know?

    About a third of New York’s 6 million-acre Adirondack Park is in the Lake Champlain watershed.
    Find out more

    Toxic Substances

    toxics substances study

    Toxics study. Photo: Gary Randorf

    A diverse group of chemicals that pose a potential risk to human health and wildlife are found in Lake Champlain. Although levels of toxic substances are low compared to more industrialized areas and progress has been made recently, there is still cause for concern.

    A survey of Lake bottom sediments showed elevated levels of mercury in many parts of the Lake, and several other toxic substances in specific locations. New York and Vermont have issued fish consumption advisories from some fish species as a result of elevated levels of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In June 2012, New York removed special consumption advisories for Cumberland Bay, after data revealed declining PCB concentrations in fish tissue from this area. Mercury concentrations in tissue of sport fish also are declining, and consumption advisories for Vermont will be updated by Spring 2013. Lead has harmed loons and other waterfowl. Legislation banning the sale of lead sinkers less than one-half ounce was enacted in New York in 2004 and Vermont in 2007.

    In 2012, the LCBP released a new Toxic Substance Management Strategy as a guide for resource managers working in the Lake Champlain Basin. The document is a plan to reduce toxic contamination in Lake Champlain to promote a healthy ecosystem and protect public health as outlined in Lake Champlain’s management plan Opportunities for Action. The Toxic Substance Management Strategy delineates strategies for monitoring and reducing several classes of toxic substances found within the Lake Champlain watershed , and follows the Precautionary Principle. The precautionary principle is a guideline that states that when there are suspected health or environmental concerns, preventative actions should be taken even when there is not a scientific certainty that harm will ensue. This means that the uncertainty associated with the chemicals found in Lake Champlain and their effects should not preclude management nor actions to reduce and prevent contamination. This strategy will be implemented at multiple levels, including individual, pirvate industry, municipalities, and by the Lake Champlain Basin Program, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and Quebec’s Ministère du Développement Durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs.

    Toxic Substances of Concern

    In 2012, the Lake Champlain Basin Program and partners reviewed groups of toxins found to-date in Lake Champlain and identified specific contaminants within these groups as substances of concern. These substances are listed in the 2012 Lake Champlain Toxic Substance Management Strategy, which identifies sources of these substances and provides general recommendations or approaches for reducing the persistence of these substances in the Lake Champlain watershed.

    Group Contaminants
    Bioaccumulating Toxins PCBs, Mercury, Methymercury, doxins/furans
    Pesticides Herbicides, Insecticides, Fungicides
    Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) Medications, Antibiotics, Antidepressants, fragrances, surfactants, detergent metabolites, antimicrobial additives
    Trace Elements Arsenic, manganese, cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel, silver, zinc, copper
    Road Salts NaCl, CaCl
    Cyanobacterial toxins Mycrocystin, anatoxin
    Other Chemicals Chlorinated phenols, PBDEs, Persistent organics, solvents


    Sites of Concern in Lake Champlain

    Figure: sites of toxics concernMost toxic substances found in Lake Champlain occur at levels that do not pose a known threat to human health; however, a few areas in the Lake have toxic substances found in higher concentrations than in the rest of the Lake, or are found together at one location. The three sites are Outer Malletts Bay, Inner Burlington Harbor, and Cumberland Bay.

    In 2000, a $35 million cleanup of Cumberland Bay led by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation removed PCB-contaminated sediments and restored wetlands and beaches. Monitoring programs in this area have demonstrated that the clean-up effort was successful; in 2012, NYS Department of Health removed the special consumption advisory for fish caught in this bay as a result of significant declines in PCB levels in fish tissue measured in Cumberland Bay. Ongoing pollution prevention continues at Outer Malletts Bay and ecological studies were completed in 1999 for Inner Burlington Harbor.

    Reduction and prevention actions will continue to be targeted to these sites of concern. While it is understood that these areas may not be the only sites of concern, they are sites where action to reduce and prevent contamination by toxic substances should begin. Areas where future problems can be prevented will also be targeted for pollution prevention activities.

    In addition to the sites noted above, the Pine Street Barge Canal is also an area of toxic contamination near Lake Champlain. This federally designated Superfund site is under remediation through a program led by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Visit the EPA’s Pine Street Canal fact sheet for more information.

    Law Island is a recent toxic clean-up success story. This 8.5-acre island, located north of Burlington, VT off Colchester Point, was until summer 2012 a potential source of toxic contaminants. Law Island was the site of  five dilapidated and abandoned structures, two abandoned junk cars, and associated refuse. Tests conducted in 2007 demonstrated lead and asbestos contamination from the materials on the island. With LCBP funds provided by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and in partnership with the VT Agency of Natural Resources and the Town of Colchester, this extremely disturbed site with lead and asbestos contamination was remediated to the point that it is no longer an environmental hazard and will hopefully serve as both wildlife habitat and a recreation site in the future.

    For information on other types of toxins, please visit the “Pollutants of Concern” page of our State of the Lake website.

    For additional maps and information, please visit the Lake Champlain Basin Atlas.

    What is the State of the Lake?

    What is the
    State of the Lake?

    Learn about the health of Lake Champlain in the 2018 State of the Lake report. Read about trends in key indicators of water quality and ecosystem health. Read the State of the Lake report


    Make Some Waves

    From using lake-friendly cleaning products to volunteering with a local watershed group, you can help restore and protect the Lake Champlain Basin. Find out how you can get involved

    Track Our Progress

    Track Our Progress

    Explore the goals and actions of our partners and track our progress online with the Opportunities for Action website. View Opportunities for Action

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    LCBP is a program partner of
    Lake Champlain Basin Program

    Lake Champlain Basin Program
    54 West Shore Road
    Grand Isle, VT 05458
    800-468-5227 (NY & VT)
    or 802-372-3213