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DNR biologists investigate 'chemicals of concern' in Newton Creek

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is investigating "chemicals of concern" discovered in Newton Creek in Superior.

DNR biologists have been monitoring the creek since they discovered fish deformities there last year. Biologists found fish with fins that were either partially or totally missing during water quality and sediment monitoring of Newton Creek and the Hog Island Inlet last year.

The DNR has been working with experts from the U.S. EPA and U.S. Geological Survey on additional monitoring to assess the cause of the deformities and the source of the chemicals.

Cherie Hagen with the Wisconsin DNR said in an email that the agency will work with the parties who are involved once the source of the chemicals has been identified to address and remove chemicals from the creek. The agency declined to comment further at this time except to say that their investigation is ongoing.

Newton Creek is part of cleanup and restoration efforts for the St. Louis River Area of Concern. The creek has been listed on the DNR's Impaired Waters List because of chronic toxicity to aquatic organisms. The river was first placed on the list in 1998 because of contaminated sediments containing pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other unspecified metals. PAHs are organic compounds often found in tar and coal deposits.

The agency has also listed Newton Creek as a limited forage fish community, which means it's only capable of supporting limited communities of fish because of its poor water quality.

The DNR began periodic monitoring of the creek in 2003 to measure biological recovery of organisms there after the site was remediated. Prior to cleanup efforts, only sludge worms could inhabit the stream.

Nearly 70,000 tons of contaminated sediment was removed, and 20 acres of fish and wildlife habitat was restored at Newton Creek and the Hog Island Inlet. The creek is downstream from the Calumet Oil Refinery in Superior and flows 1.5 miles through industrial and residential sites into the Hog Island Inlet of the Superior Bay.

Wetlands were constructed at the headwaters of Newton Creek and improvements were made to the refinery's wastewater treatment facility to control industrial sources of contamination, according to a 2014 DNR report.

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