Archive for August, 2014

PHMDC Assures Public Goodman Splash Pad is Perfectly Safe Using Incorrect Numbers

PHMDC Assures Public Goodman Splash Pad is Perfectly Safe Using Incorrect Numbers

(After this story was posted, PHMDC corrected their numbers in the document linked to below)

On August 26 the Wisconsin DNR released a public update including an “Evaluation of the Potential Health Concerns Associated with the Construction of the Goodman Center Splash Pad” by Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC).

Unfortunately, the “Residual Contaminant Level” (RCL) table in the document is riddled with incorrect numbers and miscalculations. The RCLs listed are outdated and even some of the old numbers are incorrect (or have mixed up units–e.g., the old RCL for benzo(a)pyrene was .0088 mg/kg, not 8.8 mg/kg; other RCL numbers are also incorrect). Numbers in the “estimated increase in disease risk” column are miscalculated.

The table shows that contaminants levels found in soils at the Goodman Center were large orders of magnitude higher than DNR direct contact soil RCLs, but PHMDC concludes that “patrons of the water activity”—in other words, “small children”—will not be exposed to contaminated soils, dust, and sediment during “normal operation” of the splash pad. What about when the splash pad isn’t operating “normally?” What might “abnormal operation” of the splash pad entail? The document also asserts that the splash pad water tank, buried in contaminated soil and at times submerged in groundwater, will be “impermeable.” What?!?! Everybody knows that underground storage tanks always leak, sooner or later….

To be continued…



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More Alarming PCB Hotspots Along City Bike Path Next to Goodman Center; Public in the Dark

More Alarming PCB Hotspots Along City Bike Path Next to Goodman Center; Public in the Dark

Kipp’s Sludge Garden Saga continues… an Arcadis (Kipp’s consultants) report dated August 6, 2014 includes data generated in April and May of this year showing the highest PCB hotspots found to date–550 ppm and 1020 ppm–from soils excavated at the far west edge of the raingarden (see pg. 13 of above report), right next to where a Kipp storm drain pipe emptied contaminants into the raingarden area for decades. These levels are far higher than in previous rounds of excavation in the raingarden, which also revealed many PCB hotspots.

The highest PCB level found in recent excavations, 1020 ppm, is 1457 times the DNR’s industrial direct contact residual contaminant level (RCL) of 0.7 ppm and 5100 times the non-industrial (residential) RCL of 0.2 ppm.[1],[2]

Oddly, the Arcadis report does not mention the sources of the PCBs. Moreover, it does not state the depth of these samples, making it very difficult to assess what the past and current sources of the PCBs might be, how and where the contaminants might travel over time, and how likely it is that people will be exposed to them now or in the future in different contexts.

Though some soils in the raingarden area with the highest detections of PCB have been removed, soils in much of the area could not be excavated because of buried utility lines, and the full extent of the contamination remains unknown. Contaminated runoff from the northern part of the Kipp property continues to discharge from the stormwater pipe that drains into the raingarden, as Kipp removes/repaves parking lots and constructs the groundwater extraction system. Soils in the northern parking lot area, where most of this work is occurring, are among the most contaminated soils on the site.

The City of Madison land on which these hotspots were found is next to a heavily used city bike path along which many children bike and play every day (see here and here) and just across from the ill-advised Goodman Center children’s splash pad, currently under construction. Throughout the excavations, no signs have ever been posted to let people know what is going on and to keep children and pets away.

To date, this PCB data has not been shared with the public by Kipp, DNR, or another agency. It is not posted on the DNR website and it is not in the Hawthorne Library.[3] Why not?


[1] Though government agencies are using the industrial RCL, given that this is public land feet away from a public bike path and a community center, the lower, more protective non-industrial (residential) RCL should be used.

[2] Four samples analyzed just last week to the west of these hotspots under Kipp’s driveway (leased from the City of Madison) showed much lower levels of PCBs, but consultant reports again do not include the depths of the samples, or even maps of their locations, making it difficult to assess the importance of these findings.

[3] Several years ago, people in the Kipp neighborhood asked DNR to place hard copies of critical Kipp and government documents relevant to Kipp’s soil and groundwater pollution (including consultant reports as well as DNR and other agency reports and communications, etc) in the Hawthorne Library for people who do not have internet access. Although there are several large Arcadis reports in the library, the recent raingarden data is not there and to date none of important Kipp-related DNR and other agency documents have ever been placed there other than a few very old DNR reports on Kipp’s site investigations.


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Assault on Batteries

Assault on Batteries

By Douglas J. Buege, The Cap Times, August 12, 2014.

When I was a kid, I had this cool robot that rolled around, flashed lights, and made weird sounds. It had a backpack that held two of those big AA batteries. I remember the last batteries — two Rayovacs that featured the cat jumping through the O — that corroded and destroyed the toy. What child would think that those little metal packages could pack such destruction?

Now, Rayovac’s drawing negative attention on a larger scale for being the one leading battery manufacturer of the Big Four to refuse to take back dead batteries. The Texas Campaign for the Environment has been dogging Spectrum Brands, Rayovac’s overseers, for refusing to take responsibility for their products. The Texans even shook up the recent Clean Lakes Festival in Madison with their theatrical protest.

Spectrum insists that used batteries belong in the landfill, even though Rayovac’s UK arm dispatched a press release calling for a take-back program to protect the environment.

There’s no doubt that batteries contain valuable materials that can be reclaimed. The common alkalines we use in smoke detectors and other devices contain steel as well as zinc and manganese compounds. Unfortunately, at current market prices, it costs more to extract these materials from batteries than to purchase new metals.

From Rayovac’s perspective, having to pay more to recycle batteries is negative, as it reduces their profits. But is their response — throwing the batteries away — a positive? Doing the right thing involves more than just avoiding negatives. Rayovac’s solution requires wasting resources, an obvious negative that they pass on to the rest of us. We should be able to find options that are basically good, positive choices. In the case of batteries, we can create a positive option that avoids waste while reclaiming all the components of batteries for future use.

Unfortunately, if Rayovac and other industry leaders agree to a battery take-back program, they will likely raise their prices. Then other companies will be able to sell batteries at lower prices, effectively punishing the leaders for doing the right thing.

Anyone seeking to force battery recycling can take at least two routes: harass the companies into doing the right thing or promote legislation that forces all companies to be responsible. The second approach creates a level playing field, requiring ALL battery producers and retailers to play by identical rules. Such policy would allow Rayovac to take back batteries with less financial risk.

Vermont’s legislature has already led the way in passing the nation’s first law requiring battery collection and recycling. Though the bill has several exemptions that will complicate efforts and will still allow some batteries into the landfill, the legislation may be just the first of many such efforts. Most battery manufacturers will develop the infrastructure for taking back their batteries. And, given their drive to earn money, they will find ways to profit as they meet new legal requirements. Batteries of the future will likely have much better designs allowing for recapture of their components.

Batteries are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to keeping useful materials out of our landfills. In Badgerland, we throw away an incredible amount of valuable goods because disposal proves cheaper than figuring out how to reclaim the materials. Viroquans don’t even recycle the glass bottles they collect in their recycling program because it’s too expensive to truck the glass to Minneapolis or Milwaukee.

Creative minds would find ways to recycle these goods. People seeking to keep Wisconsin clean and healthy for their grandkids would pressure producers to design products that are waste-free. Responsible citizens would demand recycling for all the recyclable materials we produce. Enterprising thinkers may find ways to profit from making use of materials slated for disposal.

Concerning batteries, it’s time to draft legislation like Vermont’s so that Wisconsinites can keep one valuable item out of our landfills. In the meantime, Carl Smith, CEO and president of Call2Recycle, a company that recycled 12 million pounds of batteries in 2013, recommends looking at their website — — to find out how businesses and organizations can mail in used batteries to be recycled free of charge.

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