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Great Lakes AOCs

Eighteenmile Creek AOC

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Elizabeth VanRabenswaay 

Megan O’Brien

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The Eighteenmile Creek Area of Concern (AOC) is in western New York State along the southern shore of Lake Ontario in Niagara County. The Eighteenmile Creek AOC encompasses the lower portion of Eighteenmile Creek, from the base of Burt Dam to Olcott Harbor at the outlet to Lake Ontario.

The Eighteenmile Creek AOC was designated as an AOC under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1987 because of poor water quality and sediment contaminated by former industrial and municipal discharges, waste disposal and pesticide usage.

In 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) did an extensive assessment of fish, toxicity, and sediment data to determine the necessity of management actions to delist this AOC.   The analysis concluded that the main contaminant driving the Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) impairments within the AOC are PCBs from the upstream source area. Testing results indicated that the sediment is below the toxicity threshold. The existing elevated levels of PCBs found in tissue samples of fish were concluded to be a result of contamination upstream of Burt Dam. As a result of these findings, USACE recommended that sediment remediation was not warranted. Therefore, the Eighteenmile Creek AOC, does not have any management actions needed to be implemented. 

 Ongoing Superfund investigations and sediment remediation activities actions continue upstream were the source areas is believed to be a primary contributor of contaminants resulting in BUIs. The AOC program will continue to fund monitoring projects, pending the availability of funding, to measure environmental improvements and provide data necessary to remove BUIs.


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Beneficial Use Impairments

Beneficial Use Impairments, or BUIs, are designated when the AOC was originally listed and are measures of significant environmental degradation. The Eighteenmile Creek AOC has five of the potential 14 BUIs shown below. BUIs are removed when measurable environmental health improvements have been demonstrated through monitoring. The list below shows which BUIs have been removed, and which remain. As of 2020, one BUI, Restrictions on Dredging Activities, has been removed. Once all BUIs are removed, the process of delisting the AOC can begin.

  • Restrictions of Fish and Wildlife Consumption
  • Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations
  • Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproduction Problems
  • Degradation of Benthos
  • Restrictions on Dedgin Activities – Removed 2020

General information about BUIs: Beneficial Use Impairments for the Great Lakes AOCs

Remediation and Restoration Work


In March of 2012, due to the extent of contamination, Eighteenmile Creek has been listed on the National Priorities List as a part of EPA Superfund cleanup activities. The superfund cleanup will address and remove sources of contamination to meet specific remedial objectives. Because some fine-grained suspended material is transported over Burt dam where it may settle out in the AOC, the federal superfund program is investigating the potential contamination occuring within the AOC (known as OU3).

Superfund Site-Eighteenmile Creek

Fish Community Survey

USGS and assisting field staff collect and process fish samples at Eighteenmile/Oak Orchard Creeks. (Credit: Scott Collins)A recent study is looking at fish population abundance and fish community structure and comparing it to a reference site of Oak Orchard Creek. In June 2019, a team of USGS, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC), NYS Museum Ichthyology Lab and Niagara County Soil and Water Conservation District (NCSWCD) sampled over 1000 fish from Eighteenmile Creek and Oak Orchard Creek. The researchers assessed fish weight as an indicator individual fish health, and species diversity, as an indicator of the overall health of the creek. Based on the results, the fish from both locations were similar and did not have significant differences.  This project is a positive step in meeting the fisheries component of the Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations BUI removal criteria.  A peer review journal article of this assessment has been written by USGS, NYSDEC and NCSWCD to be published in a future issue of the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Mink Study

SUNY Brockport field staff collect prey species samples to use in the mink study prey assessment. In 2018, SUNY Brockport started a study to assess the status of two BUI impairments and their effects on wildlife within the Eighteenmile Creek AOC. The results found no reproductive or physical impairments for birds, fish, amphibians or reptiles. However, for mammals, initial research suggested potential reproductive issues for the study species, mink. In previous studies, mink have been shown to be especially sensitive to PCBs, dioxins and furans, contaminants found in Eighteenmile Creek AOC, which can cause reproductive failure. To determine if contaminants of concern were at high enough levels to cause reproductive problems or deformities within mink populations in the AOC, mink prey was caught, and tissue sampled. Data from various prey species and water samples were modeled to estimate the impact in the AOC, upstream, and in the unimpacted Oak Orchard site. Samples were collected in Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Summer 2019, Fall 2019 and Spring 2020. Preliminary results suggest there may be impairments, but the study remains ongoing. Results of this study will determine if two BUIs (Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations and Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproduction Problems) are still impaired.

This project monitors the following BUIs:

  • Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations
  • Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproduction Problems

NYSDEC Fish Tissue Analysis

In the fall of 2018, NYSDEC collected 52 fish samples from Eighteenmile Creek for the Toxic Substance Monitoring Program. The fish collected are all popular sportfishing species and were a mixture of resident fish and Lake Ontario fish that reside in Eighteenmile Creek for short periods of time for spawning. The Brown Trout, Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon or Rainbow Trout (steelhead) collected from Eighteenmile Creek, which are fish expected to be from Lake Ontario, did not exceed the Department of Health (DOH) guideline for a specific PCB advisory. These results show that PCB concentrations in the resident Largemouth Bass did exceeded the DOH guideline for a specific advisory. The data has been shared with NYSDOH for review and there is no change to the fish consumption advisory for Eighteenmile Creek AOC.

This project monitors the following BUI:

  • Restrictions of Fish and Wildlife Consumption

PCB Study Using Semi-Permeable Membrane Devices

Upper reach of the Eighteenmile Creek AOC below Burt Dam. (Credit: USACE)In early August, EPA worked with federal partners at the USACE to deploy passive water samplers into the Eighteenmile Creek Area of Concern. This project is designed to gather better information regarding the current flow of PCBs into the AOC from upstream, gather further information to refine mink diet assessment for the removal of Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations BUI and to generate water quality data to further determine where the main source of PCBs is in the AOC. Prior assessment by USACE concluded that the accumulation of PCBs in fish appears to be mainly driven by high concentrations from upstream sources. Water samplers were deployed at five locations throughout the Eighteenmile Creek AOC and the reference site, Oak Orchard Creek. This study will provide data necessary to inform future removal of BUIs in the AOC. 


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