By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — Two toxicologists will offer education and information next month during a public meeting about toxic substances discovered in a River Street neighborhood park.
The public meeting comes nearly 10 years after the substances were detected in high levels beneath a culvert that discharges into Riverside Park. The park is nestled on property adjacent to the western banks of the Wisconsin River, north of Thomas Street and east of First Avenue. The culvert sits at the top of a western slope that declines into the park’s common area, not far from the river and just below the train tracks.
A Wausau Pilot and Review investigation in March discovered that in 2006, three surface soil samples were taken: one from the culvert inlet, one from the culvert outlet and one from a residential property on River Street. The results showed dioxin levels exceeded state standards for eight chemicals.
In one case, for the dioxin PeCDD, the level was more than 14 times the residual contaminant level recommended by the EPA for non-industrial properties. Other dioxin levels reported were more than six times the exceedances shown in the most recent round of independent testing on nearby soil, which were completed earlier this year. Dioxins have been considered highly toxic and able to cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
Public documents show the Wis. Dept. of Natural Resources received the lab results on June 5, 2008, by email and forwarded those results to the Marathon County Health Department by email on June 6, 2008. A Thomas Street resident brought the issue to the Wausau City Council last summer.
In early March, the DNR, at the request of neighborhood residents, took a second look at the 2006 test results and confirmed that non-industrial residual contaminant-level dioxin exceedances existed in both the culvert inlet and culvert outflow. That information, along with a recommendation to test the area further with three soil borings each in both the inlet and outflow area, was conveyed to city officials by the DNR.
After the DNR’s involvement, the city has reviewed the sample results with multiple agencies, according to a city of Wausau news release issued today. The area adjacent to the park has been subject to remediation efforts to remove toxic substances from the soil since the mid 1980s arising from the use of pentachlorophenol, or Penta, which was used for decades at the former SNE manufacturing plant. According to state documents, nearly 150,000 gallons of Penta have been removed from the ground since 1991.
In his state of the city address last week, Mayor Rob Mielke assured the public that cleaning up any toxic soil in the area would be an “easy fix” and “rather inexpensive.”
But Tom Kilian and other nearby residents remain skeptical, pointing to other neighborhoods nationwide that have been subject to similar cleanup efforts. Kilian is one of several residents opposed to a proposed Thomas Street reconstruction plan and is part of the neighborhood group that paid for independent testing in the area.
Multiple studies show that wood manufacturing sites are notoriously difficult to remediate due to the widespread use of Penta and other chemicals that leave dangerous dioxins in their wake.
In Gainesville, Florida, for example, alarming levels of dioxins were detected in a 2-mile radius surrounding a former wood manufacturing plant, an area that was declared a Superfund site more than three decades ago. After years of wrangling and negotiations by neighborhood residents, a neighborhood group sued, forcing a $90 million cleanup that took years to complete.
Two toxicologists have visited the site and are preparing a “risk path analysis” to better determine whether there is a risk to the public, the release states. Those toxicologists will share their findings at a public meeting of the city’s capital improvements and street maintenance committee.
The meeting is slated for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 17, at City Hall.