By Shereen Siewert

Members of the city’s parks and recreation committee on Monday will discuss a proposal to test soil and groundwater in Riverside Park, a response to concerns raised by residents about potential environmental hazards in the area.

The proposal, from REI, includes $44,176 in laboratory expenses for soil samples, along with costs for groundwater testing and soil boring. The estimated project total is $71,149, according to city documents.

Alderman Pat Peckham, chair of the parks and rec committee, emailed members of the press last week to draw attention to the meeting. Peckham has been a vocal skeptic of efforts by members of Citizens for a Clean Wausau to secure more testing in the neighborhood, often taking to Facebook to pointedly refute their positions on both RIverside Park and the Thomas Street project. And during a January meeting, Peckham told fellow members he wasn’t personally convinced that health risks in the park exist.

Still, in his June 27 email to reporters, Peckham said committee members will hold their meeting Monday at Riverside Park, where they will walk to the area where “some contamination was found in a soil test years ago.”

Then, Peckham said, the committee will again consider whether to request further testing of the soil there, a move the committee has been mulling since January when they voted to examine the possibility of environmental testing for the park.

“Two doctorate-level toxicologists with the state Department of Health Services have told us that based on the single soil test taken in the area believed to be the most contaminated, there is no unreasonable risk to park users, even those who visit and are exposed to the soil in that spot more than 100 times per season,” Peckham wrote. “But they also said they could be more certain of that finding if they were provided with additional soil test results, so that’s why this is on the agenda. My assumption is that the level of contamination is less as you move away from the tested area, but there’s only one way to be sure.”

But Tom Kilian, a member of Citizens for a Clean Wausau, called Peckham’s statement a moot point.

“From a regulatory perspective, it has already been confirmed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that the past soil sample for dioxins in the park, as well as multiple soil samples in the surrounding neighborhood, exceeded the state’s acceptable non-industrial cancer risk,” Kilian said. “This acceptable cancer risk level was codified and is outlined in state administrative code for residual contaminant levels and the protection of human health. We would assume, therefore, that the matter of cancer risk with those samples — in terms of state regulations — is no longer a point of contention, as the formal guidelines are written in black and white in Wisconsin’s Soil Cleanup Standards.”

If the proposal is approved, REI will advance 20 hydraulic push soil borings in various places within the park property. Soil samples will be screened using a photoionization detector to identify the presence of organic vapors in the soil. Samples collected will be submitted for Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs; Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAHs; Pentachlorophenol, or PCP; dioxins/furans; and priority pollutant metals such as arsenic and lead.

Each boring will result in two samples — one from the top three inches of soil and the other at depth that was not specified in the proposal.

REI also proposes to collect a groundwater sample from a temporary well screen placed into the soil boring from up to ten select soil borings. These water samples will be submitted for analysis of VOCs, PCP, PAHs and priority pollutant metals. If any contamination is discovered, those results will be turned over to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Citizens for a Clean Wausau, pointing to past sampling results of areas in and near the park, does not anticipate that pentachlorophenol will be found in soil samples at the specified depth unless there is active or fairly recent runoff of contamination into the park.

“However, DNR records do indicate that historical samples of sediment in the river directly off of Riverside Park tested positive for pentachlorophenol,” Kilian said. “Given specific DNR estimates that there is ongoing discharge of penta from contaminated groundwater in the subsurface, we urge the City to retest the river sediments for penta and complete dioxins/furans off of Riverside Park. At tomorrow’s meeting, we will also likely be requesting that a citizen monitor is present during all soil sampling, and that split samples are provided.”

The testing is being proposed after months of back-and-forth discussion between residents, city officials, and state regulatory agencies. The State Department of Health Services in February ultimately recommended further testing for potential dioxin contamination in soils in Riverside Park and along the Thomas Street corridor to allow for a greater understanding of the issue.

In a Feb. 7 letter to city officials Clara Jeong, a state toxicologist, outlined new cancer hazard calculations for the park based on existing data and concluded that exposure to dioxin in surface soil at Riverside Park for occasional recreational park users and for Thomas Street residents “does not cause an unacceptable increased risk of cancer.”

But Jeong cautioned, however, that the park report is based on a single set of samples taken 13 years ago from a culvert at the top of a steep hill in the park. Dioxin levels in other areas of the park have not been characterized, Jeong stated, and there is a possibility that tainted water from the culvert’s outfall could have migrated into the park by rolling downhill.

An appendix to the letter shows soil samples at the culvert inlet are between 17 and 26 times the EPA’s residential regional screening level.

Based on the limited amount of data, the state is recommending further assessment to fully understand the potential health impact in the community. Jeong specifically pointed to the location of the park, which is adjacent to a former wood treatment facility that used Penta, or PCP, for decades. Those products, Jeong noted, contain dioxin and impurities.

“Considering the amount and length of PCP use during the operation, it is important to assess the levels and extent of dioxin on-site as well as the potential of dioxin migration to off-site locations,” Jeong wrote.

Jeong did not explain in her letter why cancer risks were not included in the state’s initial report, which led city leaders to declare the park safe.

A Phase I Environmental Study, which was conducted also by REI, points to several areas of concern. REI noted 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.

“This site clearly has impacted groundwater which has migrated off the Wauleco site and onto adjacent properties including Riverside Park,” the assessment states.

Groundwater contamination would not be encountered by park-goers. But investigation for aerial deposition, something which could have had an impact in soils in Riverside Park, is still being scoped. The REI report also points to soil contamination from a petroleum spill at 3M as well as dioxions ” likely deposited on the property from surrounding historical industrial uses,” according to city documents. Read the full report here.

If the committee approves the plan, the proposal will move next to the finance committee for funding approval before being presented to the full council.

The meeting is set for 4:30 p.m. Monday at the Riverside Park Shelter, 100 Sherman St., Wausau. See the full packet here.