Editor’s note: This version of the story corrects the name of the committee to parks and recreation. An earlier version incorrectly listed the name of the committee as public health and safety. Wausau Pilot and review regrets the error.
By Shereen Siewert
Members of the city’s parks and recreation committee on Monday will once again take up the issue of potential environmental testing in Riverside Park on Wausau’s near west side.
Members of the committee in January voted to examine the possibility of environmental testing for Wausau’s Riverside Park, amid continued concerns from residents about the safety of the area.
Pat Peckham, chair of the committee, told fellow members during the January meeting he wasn’t personally convinced that health risks in the park exist. But an environmental study from REI issued earlier this year recommended additional testing in the park based on several factors.
REI pointed out that the investigation of the nearby wood manufacturing site, a property now owned by Wauleco, is still ongoing and being monitored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The REI report also pointed to soil contamination from a petroleum spill at 3M as potentially problematic, according to city documents. Read the full report here.
“This site clearly has impacted groundwater which has migrated off the Wauleco site and onto adjacent properties including Riverside Park,” the assessment states.
City officials have not yet moved forward with any additional testing of the park, despite a recommendation by the state Department of Health Services to do so. But on Monday, parks and recreation committee members will consider partnering with Wauleco for possible future testing, using the same vendor to promote “consistency in soil testing,” city documents state.
The discussion comes at a point when the state is continuing its investigation into potential soil contamination in and around the Wauleco site based on information provided by the grassroots environmental group Citizens for a Clean Wausau and reported in Wausau Pilot and Review. That investigation officially began Jan. 15, when the DNR issued a notice to Wauleco seeking information on past burning practices on the property at 125 E. Rosecrans St. in Wausau. The property was formerly occupied by window and door manufacturer Harris-Crestline, which in 1982 merged with SNE Corp. Sentry, in Stevens Point, is the parent company of Wauleco.
In addition to information about wood waste burning, state officials are asking Wauleco to address “aerial deposition of contaminants” associated with waste burned at the facility, according to DNR documents. Prior Wauleco site investigation and health assessment activities have focused on soil and groundwater contamination connected to Penta solution spills. Airborne pollutants are carried by wind patterns away from their place of origin.
Penta, now a known carcinogen, was used for decades in wood manufacturing processes at the site and was central to a 2008 class action lawsuit filed by 144 people who claimed toxicity in the soil and groundwater that migrated from the site caused cancer and other health problems.
Monday’s discussion is the latest in a series of considerations about Riverside Park. State toxicologists in 2018 declared the park safe based on tests from 2006; later, DHS officials recommended additional testing.
State records show that even ten years earlier, a separate Department of Health Services official recommended further testing for areas adjacent to the west-side brownfield site now owned by Wauleco that likely would have included park and residential properties nearby.
Yet that information, obtained though an open records request of Department of Natural Resources documents, was never communicated to members of the city council, despite being shared with Wausau Public Works Director Eric Lindman.
In early 2018, when news first surfaced that test results beneath a culvert in Riverside Park revealed dioxin levels that exceeded recommended levels, then-Parks Director Bill Duncanson urged city officials to explore further testing on the property. But, according to an email issued to the DHS by Dist. 1 Council Member Pat Pekahm and obtained in an open records request, Lindman was “not so sure the dioxin levels on park property (were) high enough to warrant further attention and expense.”