The Niagara River flows 37 miles or 60 kilometers from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Along the way, it serves as drinking water source, fishing grounds, vacation spot, electricity generator, and employment opportunity to millions of people. Unfortunately, the River has also served as the recipient of toxic wastes that pollute its waters and prevent us from fully enjoying its beneficial uses.

Since 1987, the Niagara River has been the focus of attention for four environmental agencies in the U.S. and Canada referred to here as "The Four Parties". The Four Parties signed a Niagara River Declaration of Intent, pledging cooperation to achieve significant reductions of toxic chemical pollutants in the Niagara River. The Declaration of Intent and a work plan form the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan (NRTMP).






Since 1987, the Four Parties have worked both together and individually to fulfill the ommitments of the NRTMP. This report reviews some of the most significant accomplishments over the past ten years. A companion document entitled "NRTMP Work Plan" lays out what the agencies intend to do in the future to continue protecting the river.

Under the NRTMP, the Four Parties identified 18 persistent toxic chemicals as "priority toxics", and established the milestone of a 50% reduction by 1996 for the 10 priority toxics with significant Niagara River sources ("chemicals of concern"). Actions to reduce the levels of other toxic chemicals in the River have also reduced the presence of the 10 chemicals of concern. To give a more complete picture of accomplishments and of River conditions, this progress report relies on information from a larger number of chemicals than the 18 priority toxics to measure progress.


  • Benz(a)anthracene*
  • Benzo(a)pyrene*
  • Benzo(b)fluoranthene*
  • Benzo(k)fluoranthene*
  • Chlordane
  • Chrysene
  • Dieldrin
  • Hexachlorobenzene*
  • Mercury*
  • Mirex*
  • Octachlorostyrene
  • PCBs*
  • DDTs
  • Dioxins*
  • Tetrachloroethylene*
  • Arsenic
  • Lead
  • Toxaphene



The Progress Report contains two parts. Part I describes the actions that the Four Parties and individual agencies have taken to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals going into the Niagara River from various sources. Part II relates those actions to results at sources and to conditions observed in River water, sediments, and fish. This summary presents the highlights from both sections of the Progress Report.


Point sources are wastes originating from human activity that are generally collected and treated before being released at finite, localized "points" (e.g., pipes) to the River. They are more easily measured and controlled than non-point sources that enter the River over a widespread area.

Before the 1987 Declaration of Intent was signed, MOEE and NYSDEC routinely surveyed their point sources and implemented programs to control them using environmental laws and regulations that issue permits limiting or banning the release of toxic chemicals from point sources.


U.S. Clean Water Act

NYS Pollutant Discharge Elimination System

Canadian Environmental Protection Act

Ontario Environmental Protection Act

Municipal/Industrial Strategy for Abatement

After the Declaration of Intent, under the Canadian plan, MOEE monitored 21 point sources between 1986 and 1995. As of 1995, the number of Ontario point sources directly discharging to the Niagara River had been reduced to 16. The data show that the daily loadings of the 18 priority toxics have been reduced by 99% over that period of time. None of the 10 chemicals targeted for 50% reduction was detected at any of the 15 facilities sampled in 1995.

Under the U.S. plan, NYSDEC monitored the 29 most significant point sources of toxic pollutants to the River. 26 of these dischargers are still operating. Between 1981/82 and 1985/86, NYSDEC reported an 80% reduction in organic and inorganic priority pollutants from the significant point sources. Between 1985/86 and 1993/94, another 25% reduction was reported. The NYSDEC monitoring program does not specifically track the 10 chemicals of concern, although most of them are included in the suite of USEPA priority pollutants reported.

Based on information available in 1987, the U.S. identified the Falls Street Tunnel as the largest source of toxic pollutants from any of its point sources. The Tunnel was once a major unlined industrial sewer cut into the bedrock under the City of Niagara Falls. By the mid-1980s, it only received overflows of wastewater from the sewers of a Niagara Falls industrial area and contaminated groundwater from major waste sites infiltrating through cracks in the bedrock. Unlike flows from other point sources, flows from the Falls Street Tunnel entered the Niagara River untreated. In 1993, USEPA and NYSDEC required the City of Niagara Falls to treat the contaminated water flowing in the Falls Street Tunnel during dry weather at the Niagara Falls treatment plant. The data gathered by the U.S. show that this action has reduced, through wastewater treatment, the input into the River of mercury by 70%, tetrachloroethylene by 85% and four other priority toxic chemicals by almost 100%. The Tunnel's wet weather flow is intermittent, and in 1994, averaged about 3 million gallons on the days overflows occurred. Monitoring by the City of Niagara Falls continues to better characterize the Tunnel's wet weather loads of toxic chemicals.


Non-point sources are discharges that originate from a widespread area (e.g., farm lands, parking lots, hazardous waste sites) and enter the River untreated by numerous pathways (e.g., ditches, groundwater). Since they enter the River over a widespread area, they are difficult to measure.


Given the limited information available about non-point sources, the U.S. has proceeded with its actions based on the assumptions that hazardous waste sites and contaminated sediments are the most significant non-point sources of toxic chemicals to the River.

Under their non-point source plan, USEPA and NYSDEC surveyed their hazardous waste sites and identified the 26 sites believed to have the greatest potential for toxic pollutant loadings into the Niagara River. Accelerated remediation schedules were established for these sites. To date, remedial construction has been completed at 6 of the sites. The remedial technology will be operated and monitored for effectiveness for years to come at those sites. Remedial activities are underway at 11 sites (including 4 sites under interim remediation). For many of these sites, significant remedial controls are already operating, providing substantial load reductions. The remaining sites are under design or study. USEPA has assumed that completing the remediation of a site cuts off the load of toxic chemicals from the site to the River, based on cutting off horizontal groundwater movement from the site. At some sites, a partial reduction was estimated based on partial remediation cutting off a fraction of groundwater movement from the site. Based on these assumptions, USEPA estimates that remediations to date have reduced the inputs into the River by at least 25%. USEPA also estimates that remedial activities to be completed in 1997 will reduce the inputs into the River by 80%. All the sites will be remediated by 2000. NYSDEC estimates that reductions to date are probably higher. Work by USEPA and NYSDEC is underway to improve reduction estimates. The simplifying assumption that allows the agencies to estimate these reduction percentages needs to be confirmed in future reports through monitoring programs implemented at each site.



  • Bell Aerospace Textron (Niagara Falls)
  • Occidental Chem. Durez (Niagara Falls)
  • Stauffer Chemical (Lewiston)
  • DuPont Buffalo Ave (Niagara Falls)
  • Frontier Chemical (Pendleton)
  • Occidental Chem. Durez (No. Tonawanda)


  • Occidental Chem. Buffalo Ave (Niagara Falls)
  • DuPont Necco Park (Niagara Falls)
  • CECOS (Niagara Falls)
  • Occidental Chem. Hyde Park (Niagara Falls)
  • 102nd Street (Niagara Falls)
  • Occidental Chem. S-Area (Niagara Falls)
  • Buffalo Color Area D (Buffalo)
  • River Road (Tonawanda)
  • Niagara Mohawk Cherry Farm (Tonawanda)
  • Olin (Niagara Falls)
    Frontier Chemical Royal Ave (Niagara Falls)

Under the Canadian non-point source plan, MOEE surveyed its landfills (1981-84 study). Five municipal landfills were identified as having the potential to contribute contaminants to the River. Studies conducted by MOEE in 1991 and 1993 showed that these landfills had minimal impact on the River.


Under Canadian and U.S. programs, several tributaries to the Niagara River have been cleaned up. 10,500 m3 (13,800 yd3) of sediments contaminated with heavy metals, oil, and grease were removed from the Welland River using innovative dredging techniques. Adjacent wetlands are being restored. About 6,000 m3 (8,000 yds3) of contaminated sediments were removed from Gill Creek. 22,000 m3 (29,000 yds3) of contaminated sediments were removed from Bloody Run Creek. Pettit Creek Cove was restored to a wetlands after 18,000 m3 (23,500 yds3) of contaminated sediments were removed.

The progress made at the hazardous waste sites and in tributary clean-ups appear to be reflected in a preliminary analysis of biomonitoring data recently collected by MOEE with caged mussels placed at the mouth of Bloody Run Creek and in the Pettit Flume. Bloody Run Creek was historically contaminated with dioxin by the occidental Chemical Hyde Park site. The concentrations of dioxin in caged mussels in 1994 and 1995 are less than half those found in 1993, suggesting that remedial actions may have considerably reduced the bioavailability of pollutants to the Niagara River from this area. The preliminary data also show that concentrations of several chlorobenzenes in caged mussels at Pettit Flume were considerably lower in 1995 than those found in previous years, suggesting the positive effects of remedial activities undertaken to date at occidental Chemical Durez in North Tonawanda.


In addition to cleaning up areas that are already contaminated, the agencies are also trying to prevent toxic contaminants from reaching the River in the first place. USEPA funds "Clean Sweep" programs, where unused farm pesticides that might otherwise be poured down a drain or accidentally spilled are collected and disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. Between 1993 and 1995, over 21,000 kg (46,000 lbs) of toxic substances, including DDT, dioxin, chlordane, and arsenic were collected in four New York counties in the Niagara River/Lake Erie basin.

Ontario's Pollution Prevention Pledge Program (P4) promotes pollution prevention initiatives in the industrial, commercial, and governmental communities. The Canadian Niagara River Remedial Action Plan has targeted P4 for greater implementation in the Niagara River area. A Canadian-U.S. partnership to promote comprehensive municipal pollution prevention was established with Hamilton-Wentworth and Erie County to promote and implement pollution prevention initiatives for attaining the mutual goal of a sustainable community. MOEE has also signed voluntary pollution prevention partnerships with several industrial and commercial sectors in which members have committed to reductions of pollutants. These sectors include: auto parts manufacturers, chemical producers, motor vehicle manufacturers, metal finishers, the printing and graphics industry, autobody refinishers, food processors, industrial laundries, photo processors, and restaurants.

EC, MOEE, and USEPA are collaborating with Canadian and U.S. universities to develop and apply an innovative computer model for predicting groundwater flow and contaminant migration in fractured bedrock at a former PCB storage site in Smithville, Ontario. The geology and groundwater flow conditions at the Smithville landfill are similar to those found at sites near the Niagara River, so the innovative technologies may have applications at Niagara River sites.

The agencies' efforts to reduce point and non-point sources of toxic chemicals, combined with the widespread efforts at pollution prevention may account for the overall reductions in toxic chemical levels that the Four Parties have observed in water and fish data. The Upstream/Downstream water sampling program operated by EC shows substantial decreases in the concentrations of several chemicals (e.g., octachlorostyrene, hexachlorobutadiene, hexachlorobenzene, mirex) that can be used as indicators of progress in reducing the concentrations of chemical pollutants in the River. Spottail shiner monitoring shows that PCB concentrations have decreased substantially from the 1970s to the 1980s, although the decreases appear to have slowed or reversed in the latter half of the 1980s.


The Four Parties acknowledge that the best way to restore the Niagara River is by working in partnership with stakeholders. As such, we are committed to keeping you involved in the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan. A public involvement plan that outlines the various ways the Four Parties will involve people in the NRTMP process is included in the companion document "NRTMP Work Plan".

We want to hear your reaction to this annual Progress Report. A short evaluation form is included at the end of this report. Please provide comments about how readable and understandable this report was, and make suggestions for improvements. With your input, we hope to be able to present you with a better report each year.

The Niagara River