A couple weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend in the Ironworks Café at the Goodman Community Center. The food was delicious and the servers were helpful and friendly. Pre-school age children were laughing and playing in the playground. Teenage kids were taking plants from the raised-bed gardens just outside the café to the compost pile. We agreed that Goodman’s gardening and food service programs for teens, and other programs for children, are impressive and commendable.
But while munching on my sandwich, I remembered that the highest levels of PCE found on the Goodman property before redevelopment (in 2001) were in soils just a few feet outside my window, under the outdoor cafe. PCE over the enforcement standard level was also found in the groundwater below where the outdoor café is now. It’s not clear how deep this contamination was at the time.
In April 2013, Madison-Kipp Corp. consultants released a map of a huge plume of much higher levels of PCE and other volatile organic compound (VOC) contamination beneath the Goodman property. Given that the highest levels of groundwater contamination at Madison-Kipp are at the northern part of the property, just across the bike path from the center (a few feet from the raised bed gardens), this is not surprising.
The top layers of contaminated soils at Goodman were removed and replaced before the center was opened, but the contaminated groundwater is still there. What levels of PCE and other VOCs are beneath the center now? How far below? Is the plume releasing toxic vapors into the Goodman Center? Nobody knows.
And apparently, nobody wants to know. This month the DNR released documents showing that the agency is finally asking Kipp to sink a shallow well on the Goodman property. But why will this well be located way out in the parking lot area? Toxic vapors released from any shallow groundwater contamination there will mostly dissipate in outdoor air. Whether contamination is or isn’t found there, this will not tell us much about exposures to people inside the Goodman Center. If there are PCEs and other toxic VOCs in shallow groundwater beneath the center, vapors released from this water will likely concentrate beneath the center—and then seep up into the building. Testing way out in the parking lot will tell us little to nothing about exposures to people in the center.
Yet again, we ask: Why are potential toxic exposures to the most vulnerable people—children and seniors in the Goodman Center—being ignored? Why have our questions about these potential exposures been repeatedly ignored or dismissed (and at times even ridiculed) by public health officials and Goodman leaders? Since the significant and widespread PCE and PCB contamination at Kipp was uncovered in 2011-2012, to our knowledge not even a single test has been done at Goodman to see if children there are exposed to Kipp’s contaminants in soil, groundwater, and/or air. Why not?
Perhaps neither Madison-Kipp nor Goodman leaders want to open up this politically messy can of worms—especially since they have been in bed together for years. Madison-Kipp has supported Goodman in a variety of ways, financial and otherwise, since the center’s inception. A year before the center opened, in a May 2007 letter to the Madison Planning Commission, CEO Reed Coleman bragged that “Madison-Kipp is a proud supporter of the new Goodman Atwood community center. What an asset it will be to the entire east side. Madison-Kipp is committed to helping with the success of the new center and have lent our support in numerous ways…” (Ironically, he then goes on to offer parking in the Kipp lot, which we now know was coated in PCBs for years, for Goodman Center users).
While things seem to have been cozy historically between Madison-Kipp and Goodman, opening up the can of worms related to Kipp’s toxic contamination plume under Goodman could turn very ugly, with former bedfellows quickly becoming enemies. Though Goodman closure documents explicitly state that Kipp is the source of the PCEs in the groundwater under the Goodman property, if this issue was opened up again, Kipp would likely blame past industrial activities on the Goodman property (e.g., Kupfer Ironworks). In a March 2012 email to the DNR and other public officials, Kipp attorney David Crass resisted DNR’s request that soil vapor probes be placed on the bike path north of the Kipp property, noting that “…historic PCE use has been documented at the Goodman Center property, which will lead to questions regarding origins of any results and will infect any future decisionmaking regarding the results.”
Hmmm. So maybe it’s to both Goodman’s and Madison-Kipp’s benefit to stay mum and resist testing, and deny any public health risks at Goodman—regardless of the source of the pollution—rather than face the uncomfortable prospect of intense political, legal, and financial battles with former bedfellows? In a twisted way, perhaps Kipp and Goodman are protecting each other?
What about government officials? Why are they so adamantly declaring that there are no exposures whatsoever in the center, though there haven’t been any tests? It seems they are either woefully unaware of the current scientific research and EPA guidances on PCE vapor intrusion (which indicate that vapor intrusion should be investigated in the Goodman building), or they are totally ignoring them. Of course, they approved the re-development of the Goodman Center in 2008 apparently without considering vapor intrusion, even though extremely high levels of PCE and other VOCs had already been well documented on the northern part of the Kipp property (just feet away from the Goodman building) beginning in 1994. If tests now were to show that vapors from the plume under Goodman are leaking into the center (and/or that children there are exposed to other toxic contamination from Kipp), blame for the lack of oversight that led to these exposures would be directed at them. Maybe not testing at all is way to avoid this uncomfortable situation?
So if our suspicions are correct, Madison-Kipp, Goodman leaders, and government officials alike are, ironically, protecting each other (intentionally or not) by putting their concerns about politics, money, and reputations above assessing risks to children and seniors, who apparently don’t matter in their political games. How unethical is this?
Note to readers: We would love for our speculations above to be wrong. If anyone out there wants to disagree—or better yet, send information disproving anything said above—please do so! Email email@example.com
 Vapor probes were eventually placed along the south edge of the bike path and results from 3/30/12 and 10/26/12 showed concerning levels of PCE and several of its breakdown products at the probe right across from the circle gathering area at Goodman. If these levels were under a building, they would likely be a problem as far as vapor intrusion inside the center. But it seems nobody will test inside—or even anywhere near—the center.