Fox Valley River Pollution Effects

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Causes of Pollution

During the time of the industrial revolution, many changes occurred that altered the Fox Valley River area for years to come. Progress from the industrial revolution led to businesses, specifically flour and paper mills, being built on or near the Fox Valley River. These mills used the river to power their businesses which led to the release of PCB pollutants into the river, causing damage to natural inhabitants of the river as well as humans. These pollutants destabilized the river and the ecosystems surrounding the river and are especially dangerous to humans due to the effects they can have on them. With the growing number of these businesses producing waste that later deposits into the river, it becomes increasingly difficult for the river to distribute or spread these pollutants out so that they do less harm to one specific area. This leads to large deposits of specifically PCB pollutants in highly concentrated amounts damaging the river beyond natural repair. These businesses were shown the damage that they were causing the river by releasing the PCB contaminants and stopped releasing them in the 1970's but due to the amount that was released into the river and the inability for the river to remove the PCB contaminants, the pollutants still remained in the river and damaged it for many years to come.[1]

Effects of Pollutants

With the release of PCB pollutants into the river, many areas of the natural wildlife were affected. The fish population of the river was especially affected due to the pollutants lack of degradation and concentration in the river causing poor water quality and high concentration of PCB pollution. With the PCB not being able to degrade on its own and the businesses still continuously dumping waste into the river, the problem just kept growing and growing. Due to the continuous rising in the levels of pollution in the river without it being able to reset itself to a sustainable level, the river saw many changes in how it was used. The river was used by the public for recreational activities such as fishing or swimming. With the amount of pollution that was released into the river, these activities became less available to the public as well as it being a health risk to those who decided to still participate in these activities. PCB pollutants have been known to have very damaging effects on human internal organs, such as the reproductive organs and, as well as causing internal organ damage, have also been linked to causing various types of cancer. People didn't even have to be near the river to be affected by the pollution because of fishing and fish consumption, people are still going to be affected. The river becoming polluted not only had physical and recreational effects on people, but it also had an effect on the area around the river as well. With businesses entering the area and setting up on or near the river and with the river becoming more and more polluted, many people didn't want to live around it due to the effects it could have or the health of the area. It wasn't until the cleanup efforts started that this became a place where people could think of as a safe home for themselves and their families, with people beginning to move back in and using the river once again.[2]

Clean Up Efforts

With the river constantly growing in its levels of pollution, something had to be done. As previously stated, the companies ceased the production of these pollutants around the 1970's, the Fox Valley River Cleanup Group's efforts to lower the pollution levels didn't start until around 2009 with dredging or capping operations to remove polluted sediment from the riverbed. In the amount of time that it took to start the cleanup process, damage was still being done. Once the dredging and capping process started, things started to get better and work towards where the river is today. Dredging is the removal of mud or debris that is contaminated by pollutants from riverbeds or harbors. After dredging, the sediment goes through a process called dewatering, which is essentially a filtering process for the removed sediment. Once clean, the non-polluted sediment can be returned to the river and the material that is left over will be removed and safely disposed of. Capping and covering is a process in which sand and gravel are placed at the bottom of the river. Capping and covering stops PCB from further spreading into the river. These operations are still underway and the Fox Valley river clean up group is still working to finalize the clean up. However, for the most part the river has been purified to a sustainable level.[3] Along with the Fox Valley River Cleanup Group, the DNR worked with the community to provide updated goals and timelines for the river's cleanup and kept the community informed on the progress.[4]



  • Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services Division of Public Health. “PCB CONTAMINATED SEDIMENT IN THE LOWER FOX RIVER AND GREEN BAY NORTHEASTERN WISCONSIN.” 14 Mar. 2006, p. 2.


  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Lower Fox River Basin.” Wisconsin DNR,


  • Fox River Clean Up Group. “Dredging Operations Underway for 2018.” Fox River Cleanup, 2018,


  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Lower Green Bay and Fox River Area of Concern.” Wisconsin DNR, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources,

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