January 13, 2009


River Contamination Toxic to Property Values

Ann Arbor, MI — Cleaning up contaminated sites in the Great Lakes could restore local property values and tax revenues.

Hazardous waste found in sediment is one of the chief reasons why 40 locations in the Great Lakes Basin are on an environmental watch list maintained by the International Joint Commission. According to John Braden, Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Illinois, "the cost of cleanup at the U.S. sites alone could exceed $4 billion, but it's not clear whether cleanup would produce comparable economic benefits. These studies provide insight into the economic benefits at stake near the Buffalo River in New York and the Sheboygan River in Wisconsin."

Contaminated areas can diminish nearby property values. The property value discounts can be determined through comparisons with similar properties located farther away from the contaminated sites. In addition, through surveys, residents can reveal how much more they would pay for properties if the sites were cleaned up.

Within 5 miles of the Buffalo River contamination, residential property values south of the river are impacted, but not to its north. The discounts average around 5% and sum to $118 million. Property tax revenues are less by nearly $5 million per year as a result. Residents of the affected area would be willing to pay approximately $250 million overall for real estate in the area if the contamination was eliminated.

Similar analysis of the Sheboygan River contamination shows clear evidence of $50 million in lost property values and more than $1 million per year in reduced property tax payments in the immediate vicinity of the worst contamination. The evidence is mixed for properties downstream. Local residents throughout the area express a willingness to pay $218 million more for residential real estate if river contamination were eliminated.

Original Publication Information

The results of these studies, "Economic Benefits of Remediating the Buffalo River, NY Area of Concern" and "Economic Benefits of Remediating the Sheboygan River, WI Area of Concern," are reported by John B. Braden and colleagues in the latest issue (Volume 34, No 4, pp. 631-648 and pp. 649-660) of the Journal of Great Lakes Research, published by the International Association for Great Lakes Research, 2008.


For more information about the study, contact John Braden, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801; , (217) 333-5501.

For information about the Journal of Great Lakes Research, contact Stephanie Guildford, Scientific Co-Editor, Large Lakes Observatory, University Minnesota Duluth, 2205 East Fifth Street, Duluth, Minnesota, 55812-2401;; (218) 726-8064.


Since 1967, IAGLR has served as the focal point for compiling and disseminating multidisciplinary knowledge on North America's Laurentian Great Lakes and other large lakes of the world and their watersheds. In part, IAGLR communicates this knowledge through publication of the Journal of Great Lakes Research, available to members in print and electronic form. A searchable archive of the journal is available online and includes the abstracts of articles from the journal's inception in 1975 through the most recent issue. In addition, complete articles are available to members who have signed up for an electronic subscription.