By Shereen Siewert

The most recent round of soil testing at Wausau’s Riverside Park shows the extent of contamination in the soil is wider than previously recorded, according to city documents.

Testing was performed in September at the park, at 100 Sherman St., Wausau, to define the extent of contamination in the area after previous test results from April showed multiple exceedances of state Department of Natural Resources soil standards.

The results of 22 tests taken at 11 locations were presented Monday by Matt Michalski, a representative from REI, to the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee. REI is the consultant organization hired by the city to perform the testing.

Several tests showed exceedances of DNR standards, but in one sample, dioxin concentration was nearly four times the state standard for residential settings. That sample, taken at the base of the hill in Riverside Park, is not located in the woods or brush but instead is located in the open at the westernmost edge of the park’s grassy area where families and children play. Several samples with higher levels of contamination are adjacent to nearby homes.

The city’s April 2020 environmental testing also revealed concentrations of dioxin and furan that exceed the DNR’s not-to-exceed direct contact limits for a non-industrial setting. Based on the city’s initial analysis, concentrations of one dioxin and one furan were more than double state soil limits for a non-industrial setting. Then, multiple exceedances were identified below a culvert that empties into the park and neighbors an area that once housed a cold storage building at the former SNE plant. One area of the cold storage building was used as a “drum accumulation area” for hazardous waste.

Dist. 3 Council Member Tom Kilian, who for years has been pushing the city to investigate and remediate contamination in the area, said the most recent results, and based on Wisconsin’s soil cleanup standards, make it obvious that more park soil testing was warranted and that the city has a well-documented problem that should be fully defined and remediated.

“I am pleased with the thoroughness of the city’s and REI’s soil testing and analysis in this problem area of Riverside Park, and that we finally have more actionable data,” Kilian said. “This is surely progress and a step in the right direction.

Area of testing at Riverside Park in Wausau

The DNR will now play a key role in determining what happens next and what remedial actions will be required. Kilian said he expects, as the district’s representative, that the DNR and city ensure that routine NR 720 contact limits for dioxins and furans are used to frame the remediation process. Anything less, Kilian said, would be “unacceptable, and rigorously opposed.”

NR 720 contact limits are soil cleanup standards established in Wisconsin’s Administrative Code.

REI officials speaking Monday to the committee did not rule out that less protective guidelines could be used.

“If, by using less protective guidelines, the Evers administration or City Hall would attempt to loosen protections for citizens in a diverse, low -wealth area of Wausau from one of the most toxic contaminants ever known, their credibility on Environmental Justice would immediately go out the window, and it would not surprise me if such an approach would prompt strong statewide objections from various environmental groups and advocates,” Kilian said. “In short, I would be very concerned and disappointed if any level of government chooses to go down that path.”

Wausau Public Works Director Eric Lindman, in an email, told Wausau Pilot & Review the next step is to share the data with DNR officials for review.

“The WDNR will determine the next steps once they have reviewed the final report by REI,” Lindman said. “This may not happen until after the first of the year.”

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