By Shereen Siewert

Discussion is continuing on possible environmental testing in Riverside Park, following a 35-minute presentation to the parks and recreation committee by a grassroots environmental group outlining years of research on the issue.

Citizens for a Clean Wausau member Tom Kilian offered a 36-slide presentation (embedded below) that outlined the group’s research and goals for the park. The group is asking for testing to determine if contamination levels in the park have declined enough over time to be within Wisconsin Soil Cleanup Standards (WSCS) levels. If levels are too high, the group is asking for a remediation plan.

During his presentation, Kilian explained the reasons for concern in the park, pointing to 2006 soil samples taken near the culvert in the park that revealed WDNR direct contact soil exceedances for dioxins and furans. The samples were taken in relation to a lawsuit involving Wauleco and Sentry Insurance that alleged that penta-related dioxin contamination stemming from the site immediately west of the park had caused illnesses including cancer and, in some cases, death. Some residents not involved in the lawsuit learned of the results years later as community awareness grew, Kilian said.

City officials themselves used the lawsuit and related deaths to support a 2013 EPA grant application, according to documents obtained by Kilian and shared with the committee.

Compounding the issue is a history of substantial contamination and spills at the 3M Company property, which borders the park to the west. Kilian presented evidence that shows 3M’s contamination impacted soil in the public park to the east, along with video and photo documentation that suggests that runoff of stormwater into the park could have occurred regularly over time.

The group is also urging officials to determine the level of arsenic in the neighborhood. Those tests, Kilian said, would be inexpensive and could be used in the park assessment — potentially with assistance from the state.

The group suggests testing soil near the fence line separating industrial property from the park; the wooded areas of the park, including those near former demolition areas; and a depressed elevation zone where runoff and ponding have been documented or suspected.

The Dept. of Natural Resources earlier this year launched an investigation into aerial deposition of possible toxic contaminants stemming from a Wauleco-owned site at the intersection of Thomas Street and Cleveland Avenue, adjacent to Riverside Park. During the meeting, Mayor Rob Mielke suggested that Wauleco should both find the contamination and be responsible for cleaning it up.

“If Wauleco, the polluter, if they find contamination in the neighborhood they will be made responsible for that contamination,” Mielke said. “If we find it, it’s on us.”

Kilian, in an email to Wausau Pilot and Review, expressed concern about Mielke’s statement.

“Citizens for a Clean Wausau provided factual and thorough documentation at the meeting which demonstrated the need for thorough — and likely extensive — testing of Riverside Park,” Kilian said. “It appeared from Mayor Mielke’s statement that the administration was not necessarily in disagreement but, rather, was very concerned over what it may find in the park if is thoroughly tested, and the liability and financial implications for the City of such a discovery.”

A motion to move forward with REI’s 20 recommended tests was made, but that motion changed to allow the environmental engineering firm to digest the information CCW put forward. The next discussion is set for Aug. 5.CCW-Presentation-July-2019