By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — City officials say they need more time to digest test results from 2006 that show toxic substances in park soil before bringing in toxicology experts to better explain the risks associated with dioxins and other cancer-causing agents that could be present at Riverside Park.
At the same time, Dist. 1 Alderman Pat Peckham fired off several emails to the neighborhood activist who provided key information for Monday’s Wausau Pilot & Review story, scolding him for sharing public information with the newspaper. Those emails, sent from a city email address, are public record, as are the test results that formed the basis of Monday’s story.
“Because you shared that information, an over-eager journalist has put out false information,” Peckham wrote, in an email to Tom Kilian. “My including you in those communications was a bit of an experiment that I hoped I would not regret.”
Kilian, who has for years expressed concern and frustration over potential toxicity in the neighborhood, said his priority is the welfare and safety of his hometown and his neighborhood.
“You are a public servant and I am part of the public,” Kilian wrote back. “Our communications are a part of public record, as they should be. Thus, neither of us should feel the obligation to apologize for conveying public information, as this is the people’s business and that business is open to all. I have no interest in politics or tactfulness, only civics. If, as an elected official, you feel that public information should not be conveyed to the public, then you would be better served not to share it with me, as I do not agree.”
In the original version of the story, the Pilot stated that two Department of Health Services toxicologists had been invited to speak to members of the parks and recreation committee during the group’s April 2 meeting. After publication, however, that invitation was rescinded to allow city officials more time to analyze the test results on their own.
In a terse email sent late Monday evening to the Pilot, Peckham did not dispute the facts of the story except to say that the April 2 agenda would not, in fact, include a discussion with DHS officials.
“The director of public works, a man whose work and whose word I respect and admire, asked that he be given time to get further information from the DNR on the methods and details of previous testing,” Peckham wrote. “The parks director, another fellow worthy of respect and admiration, agreed with the additional time. I agreed to give it a month with the option of having the matter on the May agenda in some form.”
“I don’t mind that the media got wind of city efforts to do what seems to me to be the right thing, but some effort to confirm accuracy is always appreciated. ”
The story, accurate at the time of publication, has since been amended, and an editor’s note has been added to the top of the story to explain the discrepancy.
Kilian said he remains frustrated at a lack of action by city officials who have so far failed to act, despite objective, fact-based information. He would like to see a comparison between the profiles from dioxin results found in the neighborhood — such as the culvert –and dioxin profiles of technical-grade pentachlorophenol and industrial sites in the area. Public documents and emails show the DNR and Marathon County Health Department have had a copy of the culvert test results for more than a decade.
“It is the obligation of our officials and government entities to deal with these matters frankly and in a manner protective of public health, neither of which seems to have occurred fully,” Kilian said.