Archive for January, 2016

Madison advocacy group files complaint over DNR’s handling of open records requests

Madison advocacy group files complaint over DNR’s handling of open records requests

Photo: DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.

Article below by Molly Beck, Wisconsin State Journal.

A lawsuit filed this week over the length of time it takes one state agency to respond to open records requests has open-government advocates hoping a court will make clear how long is too long for the state to respond to such requests.

Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates, a public interest law firm, filed a complaint this week in Dane County Circuit Court against the Department of Natural Resources alleging the state agency is violating the state’s Public Records Law by taking months — 10 months in one case — to respond to three requests for information related to a group of wetlands permits, concentrated animal feeding operations and air testing data.

The group’s suit comes amid criticism of the way Gov. Scott Walker’s administration handles requests for public records and in the wake of an unsuccessful July attempt by lawmakers to shield most records produced by the Legislature from public scrutiny.

DNR spokesman George Althoff said, “DNR takes its responsibility to the state open records law very seriously.” He said the DNR does not comment on pending litigation.

Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council president Bill Lueders said he’s “glad to see a legal challenge over long delays in providing records.”

He said delayed responses to requests have been “an issue of growing concern” over the last several years — not just at the DNR, but at other state agencies, including the Department of Administration, Department of Corrections and University of Wisconsin System.

Lueders said the delays aren’t just a function of Walker’s administration, but rather a “gradual confluence of forces” is to blame, including state agencies being “strapped for staff.”

“And this is one of the areas they haven’t fully staffed,” said Lueders.

He said despite complaints over long waits, former Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and current Attorney General Brad Schimel haven’t weighed in on whether a specific deadline for responding to requests should be outlined in the state open records law.

“The fact that two (attorneys general) have not wanted to draw bright lines there has kind of emboldened custodians to take even longer,” said Lueders.

The open records law does not set a time frame within which a government agency must respond to a request but says agencies should respond “as soon as practicable and without delay.”

Some other states define a response time in state law. In Illinois, for example, records custodians have five business days to “either comply with or deny a request.” If custodians need more than five business days, the law allows them to take another five days.

“The office of the Attorney General has been reluctant to make these judgments, so I hope this is an area in which the courts can provide guidance,” said Lueders.

The environmental group filed three requests for DNR records on March 9, June 3 and Aug. 19, the complaint states.

The DNR acknowledged receiving the March 9 request for air testing data on April 24 and sent the group an invoice for $162.50. The group sent the money to the DNR on June 29 but did not receive a response or records, according to the complaint. After months of calls and emails, according to the complaint, a DNR official responded on Jan. 12 saying the payment was received after the invoice’s payment deadline, prompting the request to be canceled.

The DNR took nearly five months to acknowledge the group’s June 3 request for information about concentrated animal feeding operations. In that email, a DNR official noted ongoing litigation, according to the complaint. The DNR said the advocacy group might want to resubmit a request. No further communication or records have been received from the DNR, the complaint states.

The last request, submitted on Aug. 19, was acknowledged on Nov. 10, when the agency asked the group to narrow the scope of its request. The group responded to the DNR’s emails on Nov. 18 and says the DNR has not provided further communication or records.

In addition to the failed attempt by lawmakers to gut the state’s records law, earlier this month the state Public Records Board rescinded a controversial decision that allowed public officials to quickly destroy certain records that they deemed to lack lasting significance.

The board’s decision drew little notice when it was made in August. But it came under scrutiny last month after Walker’s administration cited it to explain why it had no records on file in response to requests from the Wisconsin State Journal and liberal group One Wisconsin Now.

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Editorial: On MLK Day, environmental justice deserves a key role

Editorial: On MLK Day, environmental justice deserves a key role

Editorial below from Environmental Health News (see MEJO’s articles related to environmental justice here)

In celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, we have to keep environmental justice part of the civil rights movement

As people around the country celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., there’s a Michigan community lacking the most basic of human rights: water.

The fallout continues in Flint, Michigan, as the city’s water is leaching lead from old pipes. The problem started when it switched from Detroit water to Flint River water, which corroded old, lead pipes and exposed children throughout the city to a dangerous toxic metal.

The media—local, national and international—are providing up-to-the-minute coverage of the emergency, but it’s too late for the city that was trying to reinvent itself.

Michigan State Police

It’s too late for the children, doomed to a life of learning problems.

It’s too late for parents who blame themselves for offering their child a cup of water before bed.

Flint—a city that is 56 percent black and has an estimated 40 percent of its people below the poverty level—is not alone. Every day millions of poor and minority communities in this country are disproportionately exposed to environmental contamination.

On this day of reflection, it is imperative that environmental justice remains at the forefront of the civil rights movement.

There are almost 12,000 stories in our news archive that deal with environmental justice issues. While our daily news aggregation is not meant to be exhaustive, this number is far too high.

You don’t have to go back far. Stories since the turn of the year include:

Federal officials announced a hearing on the problem of coal ash dumping in minority communities. Down the road from Flint, in southwest Detroit, the biggest polluter in one of the state’s most toxic zip codes wants to … wait for it … get a permit to pollute more. In Chicago, an investigation found that federal housing is leaving poor children at risk of lead poisoning. Native people in Alaska are struggling to maintain their culture and way of life in the face of climate change and rising sea levels.

Health remains at the core of these injustices, but it expands beyond that and connects to other key issues for the civil rights movement—police brutality, education and job opportunities.

Just look at Flint, where children see daily violence and deal with a broken school system.

Now they’ve been contaminated with a toxic that is linked to brain development problems, learning disabilities, low IQs and crime. Their uphill climb for a good education and well-paying jobs just got a little steeper.

For the police brutality link, look no further than one of the faces of the Black Lives Matter movement, Freddie Gray, a 25-year old black man who was killed last April while in custody of the Baltimore Police Department.

While Gray dealt with multiple issues throughout his life, his early childhood lead exposure certainly did him no favors.

It is past time that this country deals with its legacy of shifting the pollution burden to poor and minority communities.

Esther Calhoun of Uniontown, Alabama, and president of Black Belt Citizens for Health & Justice, said of coal ash pollution in her community: “No one thought that the members of this poor community would fight back or that anyone would listen to us.”

But many like Calhoun are fighting back—it’s time for state and federal officials to listen.

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality for months brushed aside community concerns about the Flint drinking water.

And an investigation last year from The Center for Public Integrity found that 95 percent of civil-rights violations claims are denied by the Environmental Protection Agency.

We can do better.

Martin Luther King Jr. urged civil rights leaders in his famous 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial to “demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

In honoring him today we should all remember that freedom, justice and progress are best cultivated in a clean, healthy environment.

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at


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Madison-Kipp’s pollution cleanup is nowhere near complete: Part I–Groundwater

Madison-Kipp’s pollution cleanup is nowhere near complete: Part I–Groundwater

Photo: Toxic permanganate discharge from Kipp groundwater extraction and treatment system (GETS) on Aug. 9, 2015


On December 20 2015 the Wisconsin State Journal published a front page article  by Steven Verburg about the ongoing Kipp pollution tragedy.  “Madison-Kipp Corp” the article stated, “says the company may be nearing the end of a multi-pronged cleanup of hazardous chemicals that began spreading from the factory decades ago…”

Sadly, the highly toxic and persistent chemicals released from Madison-Kipp for over 100 years will never be fully “cleaned up.” People on the eastside of Madison and beyond will be living with remnants of Kipp’s pollution for generations to come.

The WSJ article provides a good overview of some of the factory’s pollution issues that remain unresolved—and there are many more. Meanwhile, though the company may have stopped using PCBs and PCE, it continues to use and emit numerous toxic chemicals. What are they? Where are they emitted, and in what quantities? What did they replace PCBs with in lubricants for their machinery? Based on the horrible sickly odor of Kipp’s die cast emissions in the neighborhood, they are not lubricating their die cast machines with lavender oils…

Below, we elaborate on some of the statements in the article.WSJ statements are in bold, followed by our response.

WSJ: “The PCE contamination got outside the plant when it condensed in a ventilation system”

 MEJO: This is not even close to the whole story on how PCE “got outside the plant” and makes it sound like the contamination is limited to a small area of the site. The September 8, 2012 lawsuit deposition of Jim Lenz, an engineer at Kipp from 1980 to 2011, described how Kipp workers frequently dumped PCE on the ground on the Kipp site over many years: “Back before the parking lot was paved they would just throw buckets of spent PCE out the parking lot to get rid of it,” Lenz said. Lenz also said that during refilling of the PCE storage tank, and dispensing PCE into buckets from tanks, PCE commonly spilled onto the ground, and leaks occurred. “Back then there were spills all the time and nobody worried about it,” he said. He mentioned various drains that captured PCE and other process wastes that drained onto grassy areas around the pant (such as the area that became the raingarden)—or went to storm or sanitary sewers (Lenz Deposition, pp. 46-69).

PCE is a “dense non-aqueous phase liquid” (DNAPL). DNAPLs are very heavy—heavier than water. When PCE was spilled or dumped on the ground at Kipp, it infiltrated down quickly to the groundwater. Scientific research shows that DNAPL chemicals can travel from the surface to deep groundwater aquifers in a matter of days through underground fractures that act like contaminant “superhighways”

Further, it is well documented that storm and sanitary sewers get old and develop cracks—and chemicals in them can make it to groundwater after leaking through cracks. So some of the PCE and other VOCs leaked through old storm and sanitary drains leading out from Kipp in all directions, and eventually made it down into groundwater along these routes.

Storm sewers also drained PCE, PCBs, metals and other toxic chemicals to Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona for decades. As we described in detail in a past article, Kipp documents in the 1990s clearly discussed and depicted a ditch at the northern tip of Kipp that collected PCE, PCB and other toxic wastes and drained them into the storm sewer going off to the northeastern corner of the site, eventually going into the city storm sewer that goes to Starkweather Creek about one-third of a mile away.

Dr. Lorne Everett, an expert in the citizen RCRA lawsuit, wrote in his December 2012 report on Kipp: “Madison-Kipp has been releasing toxic chemicals for decades and (considering the contaminant transport mechanisms associated with this site) the migration of chemicals…would have begun shortly after commencement of the releases. For example, contaminants spread by wind-blown transport and run-off would have migrated offsite as soon after the commencement of dumping as the first major rainstorm or windy day. Soil vapor migration from VOC-contaminated onsite soil would have reached the immediately adjacent homes in a matter of weeks or months. Considering an approximate shallow groundwater flow velocity of 40 of feet per year,[i] contaminated groundwater would have extended offsite within (at most) a year or two of first becoming impacted.” (Dec. 3 2012 Everett report, p. 6-7). Kipp started using PCE some time in the 1940s. Given the above, it is not surprising how far the VOC groundwater plume extends beyond Kipp (and the furthest edges of the plume haven’t even been defined).

After seeing the Kipp PCB data released in early 2013, Dr. Everett called Kipp “one of the most contaminated sites I’ve ever worked with” in his Feb. 2013 deposition (see p. 5 of pdf, p. 22 of deposition). PCBs are far more toxic than PCE, and are contaminated with dioxins and furans, some of the most toxic chemicals ever studied by scientists.

Since 2013, Kipp has had to clean up high levels of PCBs along the bike path and in the raingarden several times—see here and here for more details. Another PCB excavation is planned along the bike path this week (January 2016). Extraordinarily high levels of PCBs remain under the factory, and how these PCBs will be cleaned up over the long term is unknown (we will discuss the Kipp PCB situation further in a future article)

In other words, after decades of spilling, dumping, leaking, draining, and spreading via stormwater and air, this toxic pollution is now widespread around the Kipp site and beyond in soils, groundwater, surface water, and sediments at the bottom of Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona. Over decades, some of this toxic contamination certainly made its way to fish in these waterways, and into the bodies of wildlife and people who ate this fish. Sadly, most of this contamination cannot be cleaned up at this point. It’s too late.

 WSJ: “The company…has been extracting contaminated groundwater, treating it and depositing 65,000 gallons a day in Starkweather Creek…”

MEJO: Yes, the company has been extracting contaminated groundwater and discharging thousands of gallons of it a day into Starkweather Creek. What levels of contaminants are in this discharge? What ecological effects will the discharges have on Starkweather Creek? On groundwater? On Well 8, at Olbrich Park and/or Well 11, near Woodmans–which supply drinking water to the east side? Is one groundwater extraction and treatment system the best strategy? How effective will it be? What alternatives were considered? How was the decision made to use this strategy, and who was involved in making it?

After citizens learned about the permitted discharges to Starkweather Creek in January 2015 (after DNR and city permits were already issued), and raised questions about it on the SASYNA listserve, PHMDC’s John Hausbeck privately told city officials that even though the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District was originally going to take the GETS discharge, it eventually decided it didn’t want to take the GETS discharge into the sanitary system because it was too “clean.” He assured Alder Rummel and his colleagues that citizens’ “alarm” about contaminants going to the creek and lake was unfounded, and he was confident that this would not happen. “I believe this system will work and I think we have the monitoring in place to make sure it works going forward,” he told them.

We subsequently obtained and reviewed GETS documents to find details on how “clean” the discharge would be and what kind of monitoring would be done. Below is some of what we learned via a long and convoluted process of obtaining relevant documents (DNR told citizens they would need to submit open records requests for documents, though they eventually placed some of them on the BRRTS site).

What’s in discharges from Kipp’s groundwater extraction and treatment system (GETS)? How are they monitored?

Caveat to the below discussion: If any of the below regulatory standards or calculations are incorrect—our apologies. We asked DNR twice to explain the permits and discharge limits to us, but they have not responded so we are sorting through the very complex and confusing permit and regulatory maze on our own. We welcome corrections!

The groundwater extraction and treatment system (GETS) in the northern Kipp parking lot removes some—but not all—of the VOCs from the groundwater before it is discharged to Starkweather Creek. The discharges are mainly regulated by a DNR permit, but a separate City of Madison discharge permit covers monitoring of a different set of contaminants in the discharge (see below).

The DNR permit for the GETS discharge, issued in January 2015 states: “The discharge limits are set to protect both surface water and groundwater quality since the discharge is to surface water that may have seepage to groundwater. The most restrictive limits will apply” and “Limits based on groundwater quality protection are set at the preventive action limits in ch. NR 140, Wis. Adm. Code.”  It also states ”[n]othing in this permit allows the permittee to discharge any substance in a concentration that would cause groundwater standards in Ch. NR 140 to be exceeded.”

This sounds really protective. However, the GETS permit doesn’t actually have to adhere to NR 140 limits. Why does it say this on the permit? We don’t know. The DNR developed a general permit for stormwater discharges from remedial systems for contaminated groundwater that allows levels of PCE, TCE, and many other toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at levels hundreds of times higher than the NR 140 Preventive Action Limits (on which other stormwater permit VOC effluent limitations are based—see pg. 11 of general permit above). For example, the following average monthly concentrations of tetrachoroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), and vinyl chloride (VC) are allowed in the GETS discharge:

NR 140 PAL Limit DNR GETs

permit limit

How much higher than NR 140 limits?
Tetrachloroethyene (PCE) 0.5 ug/L 50 ug/L 100 times
Trichloroethylene (TCE) 0.5 ug/L 50 ug/L 100 times
Vinyl chloride (VC) 0.02 ug/L 10 ug/L 500 times

For unknown reasons, there are no discharge limits listed in the GETS permit for cis and trans 1, 2 dichloroethylene (DCE). The NR 140 PAL for cis DCE is 7 ug/l and for trans DCE is 20 ug/L. DCE compounds are common breakdown products of PCE. Why would the DNR not include any discharge limits for these chemicals in Kipp’s permit?

To be clear, the above table doesn’t mean the GETS is discharging these concentrations of toxic chemicals; it means that the DNR decided that discharging these concentrations of toxic chemicals would be OK for Starkweather Creek and Well 8. On what basis?

To date, as far as we know,  July 2015 GETS discharges of PCE and TCE went over the allowed limits, but reported GETS discharges for subsequent months were lower than these maximum allowed levels. Regardless, though lower than these very high allowed levels, the actual measured discharge concentrations of PCE, TCE, and DCE have still been far over the NR 140 standards (see table below). What effects will these discharges of toxic VOCs have on Starkweather Creek and Well 8 over the long term?

Actual reported GETS discharge concentrations of PCE, TCE, DCE from July-November 2015

July 15 Aug 15 Sept 15 Oct 15 Nov 15
PCE 85.2* 44 48 23 32
TCE 19.3* 8 8.9 2.9 4.7
Cis DCE 73.5 30.7 33 9.8 15

All numbers are in µg/L

July and August concentrations are average of several measurements, the rest are one-time “grab” samples (see discussion below)

* Highest PCE effluent level in July was 270, highest TCE in effluent was 52, highest cis DCE level was 150

No flow limits in DNR permit?

 Oddly, there is also no limit in the permit for the amount of water discharged (called “flow” in the permit). This is extremely problematic since the concentration of each chemical (e.g., ug/L) is only one part of determining how much is discharged into waterways—the number of liters (L) discharged per day, month, etc., also determines this.

The GETS “design value” for flow is 64,800 gallons a day. If GETS actually discharges the monthly average concentration the permit allows for vinyl chloride (10 ug/L) and the flow level is actually 64,800 gallons a day, we can do some basic calculations to figure out how much vinyl chloride would be discharged in this scenario: 64,800 gallons/day = 1,971,000 gal/month X 12 = 23,652,000 gals/year; there are 3.78544 liters per gal, so 23,652,000 X 3.78544 = 89,533,226.88 liters that can be discharged per year. If each liter has 10 ug/L of vinyl chloride, then 89,533,226.88 X 10 = 895,332,268.8 ug of vinyl chloride would be discharged per year. If the amount of flow from the GETS doubled, then double this amount of vinyl chloride would be discharged, and so forth.

So having an actual flow limit in the permit matters a lot—without it there is essentially no real limit to the amount of toxins that can be discharged into watersheds. Industries know this, and fought back hard (including threatening to sue the agency) when EPA recommended imposing numeric flow-based limits in discharge permits in 2010. EPA eventually backed down, so flow-based limits are not in permits.

Moreover, Kipp is not required to actually monitor the flow, but is required to report to DNR if the flow is “anticipated to increase above 70 gallons per minute,” or above 100,800 gallons a day. Would Kipp actually do this? It sounds voluntary.

How much total VOC and other contaminants are allowed to be discharged by the DNR permit?

 Several toxic VOCs are discharged from the GETS. There is no “total VOC” limit listed on the permit, but adding all the VOC limits listed in the permit together (see actual permit for details, link above), a monthly average of up to 1240 ug/L VOC is allowed. Based on this limit and assuming discharge levels of 64,800 gal/day, over 9 million micrograms, or 245.5 pounds of toxic chlorinated compounds and other VOCs per year would be allowed to go into Starkweather Creek by the permit.[ii] This number doesn’t include cis and trans DCE (again, no limits listed), and other unmeasured VOCs that are likely discharged from the GETs. Therefore, the total allowed amount of contaminants discharged into Starkweather is unknown.

The GETS also discharges high levels of sodium and chloride (produced when sodium permanganate reacts with PCE and other compounds). The city, not state, permit covers sodium (see below).

The GETS permit allows 395 mg/L of chloride to be discharged (this is the DNR’s surface water effluent limit; the groundwater preventive action limit is 125 and the enforcement standard is 250 mg/L). Based on the 64,800 gallons a day flow rate, the permit allows 39 tons of chloride to be discharged into Starkweather Creek per year from the GETS.If the flow from the GETS increases, this level would be higher.

Starkweather Creek is listed by DNR as impaired for chloride, in addition to “unspecified metals” and other contaminants. Many Madison drinking water wells are challenged by rising sodium and/or chloride levels, which can infiltrate from surface water to groundwater. Given this—why would DNR and the City allow such a high permit limit for chloride discharged into Starkweather?

The DNR GETS permit doesn’t include any quantitative limits for sodium permanganate, and requires only visual monitoring by Kipp (hopefully this is more than…“looks OK to me!”). Sodium permanganate is in the extracted groundwater as a result of past In-Situ Chemical Oxidation (ISCO) treatments, which injected thousands of gallons of permanganate into the groundwater. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for sodium permanganate says that it is “very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects” and “a long term hazard to the aquatic environment” and advises to “avoid release to the aquatic environment.”

The permanganate is supposed to be “neutralized” by Kipp staff with hydrogen peroxide before it is discharged (this reaction produces sodium hydroxide, manganese oxide, as well as water and oxygen). On August 9, 2015, Kipp apparently ran out of hydrogen peroxide and the GETS released non-neutralized permanganate , which is a bright magenta color, into a ditch that eventually drains into Starkweather Creek.

This purportedly brief (according to Kipp) permanganate release was enough to cause a fish kill in Starkweather Creek. This is not surprising since permanganate is “very toxic to aquatic life.” Given this, why would the DNR not include a limit for permanganate in their permit, and not require ongoing chemical monitoring for it, rather than just visual monitoring?

The city GETS discharge permit covers manganese, other metals, sodium

 For some reason (that we don’t understand), metals, sodium, and various other discharge contaminants are covered under the city stormwater permit, not the DNR permit. See the list of contaminants covered under the city permit here. The city discharge permit requires discharge monitoring only once a year. Discharge limits are not listed on the city permit. According to Madison General Ordinance 7.47, these discharges should meet the requirements of DNR code NR 105 and 106 (for surface waters), but these codes are complex and it isn’t clear what limits pertain to the city permit. Some of the contaminants monitored by the city are not listed on NR 105 or 106.

For sodium, the July city monitoring showed GETS discharge levels of 114 mg/L (ppm)(NR 140 doesn’t list sodium; the EPA’s National Secondary Drinking Water Standard for sodium is 2 ppm).

Manganese is also covered under the city, not the state permit. Manganese is produced by ISCO treatments (from the permanganate, which is a manganese compound) and when the permanganate is oxidized by hydrogen peroxide before the GETS discharge. Not surprisingly, manganese has been found in extremely high levels in the groundwater under Kipp (up to hundreds of thousands of µg/L; see ISCO report linked to above).

It isn’t clear what the manganese discharge limits are in the city permit (if any). The first city monitoring of the discharge in July (see above) after the system first went into operation found 549 ug/L manganese.[iv] We couldn’t find surface water standards for manganese (there may not be any). The NR 140 groundwater preventive action level for manganese is 60 ug/L, and the enforcement standard is 300 ug/L. The EPA’s National Secondary Drinking Water Standard for Manganese is 50 ug/L .

Well 8 at Olbrich Park, which supplies water in the summer for the Kipp neighborhood, has higher levels of manganese than any other well in Madison. Though historically regulated as an aesthetic contaminant, a growing body of research suggests that manganese is a neurotoxin and the EPA is considering regulating it as such—which will likely mean lower drinking water limits. Given this, why would the city permit not include a specific effluent limit for manganese, and require ongoing monitoring for it in the GETS discharge? On what basis was this decision made, and by whom?

Do city and state permit monitoring approaches protect Starkweather Creek and Well 8?

As we discussed above, PHMDC’s Mr. Hausbeck told his colleagues in January 2015 that he believes the GETS system and the monitoring approach required in the permits will work well, and citizens should not be “alarmed” about toxic releases to Starkweather Creek. Given the fact that in August there was a significant permanganate release that caused a fish kill, and authorities were only notified about this by citizens after the fact, perhaps the monitoring approach isn’t working so well? Perhaps citizens’ questions and concerns about toxic contaminants getting into Starkweather Creek (which they obviously already have!) are legitimate?

The city permit requires Kipp to immediately notify them of a release such as the one that happened in August, and they didn’t. The city later referred this violation to the city attorney, but it isn’t clear whether or how they followed up on this, if at all.

Also, oddly, the DNR permit limits are based on monthly averages, but after the first six weeks the discharge is only monitored once a month. How does a once a month “grab” test of contaminants reflect a monthly average?  Daily contaminant levels in the discharge could go much higher than the permit limits, but as long as the monthly test shows levels lower than the limits, nobody will ever know. Who decides when to do the once monthly test? Kipp.

Visual permanganate monitoring photos apparently don’t have to be submitted after the first two discharge reports (since the reports after August don’t include them). How do we know Kipp is doing the required visual monitoring? If there is another release of non-neutralized permanganate, and Kipp doesn’t do the right thing and report it (should we trust them after what already happened?), will anyone know now that the discharge is going into a covered storm sewer pipe? (Citizens walking on the bike path saw the problematic GETS discharge in August because it was hard to miss magenta-colored water flowing across the pavement next to the path. At that time it was being discharged there because the city was working on the sewer drains they are discharging into now).

Also, GETS monitoring discharge reports aren’t submitted to the DNR until the middle of the following month. When PCE and TCE levels did go above the limits in July 2015 (see above), DNR wasn’t notified till August. The PCE and TCE already went into Starkweather Creek.

Also, as discussed above, the city monitoring for important compounds such as manganese, sodium, other metals, etc, is only done once a year. If there are spikes of these contaminants in the GETS discharge, nobody will know until months later, perhaps up to a year later.

How do sporadic, infrequent monitoring approaches and delayed reporting  proactively protect Starkweather Creek from high discharges of toxic contaminants? How do they protect Well 8?

Decisions Made Behind Closed Doors; No Public Input or Engagement…

 We are not against the ISCO or the GETS per se; we understand that they are intended to remediate the highly contaminated groundwater, and we support that goal. Our point in raising the issues above is that we don’t understand the basis on which the DNR and city officials decided to allow such high levels of contaminants to be discharged into already highly impaired waters, near an already contaminated drinking water well. We don’t understand the basis for the monitoring approaches, and why some contaminants are covered under a state permit and others under a city permit.

Unfortunately, all of the decisions about the GETS discharge were made behind closed doors—with no public meetings, no public engagement, no opportunity for public input or questions. How were these limits—or lack thereof— determined? By whom, and when? What alternatives were considered for how to treat the groundwater contamination, and where to discharge it? What impact will the discharge of contaminants have on Starkweather Creek, Lake Monona, and Well 8 during the many years the GETs will be in operation? Will anyone be monitoring for environmental impacts in these waterways? We don’t know. We doubt it.

We have asked DNR wastewater officials twice to provide documentation about how the GETS discharge limits were developed, and why certain contaminants are covered under a separate city permit, and have received no responses.

We have asked the DNR and the city repeatedly for public meetings to discuss these and other questions we have about Kipp pollution. They have refused.

WSJ: Discussing the GETS system, “Koblinski said the effort was aimed at pulling the edges of the contaminated plume back toward the plant.”

 MEJO: This is likely a futile aim. A single groundwater extraction system on the Kipp site is not capable of “pulling the edges of the contaminated plume back toward the plant.” As this map shows (these numbers are old, but current levels at these wells aren’t much different) and as we wrote about in a previous article, the giant underground plume extends to north of Milwaukee Street, hundreds of feet to the east and west of Kipp, and likely to Lake Monona to the south (though no monitoring wells have ever been placed directly to the south of Kipp). The plume extends much further than these monitoring points, given the high levels found at them. In other words, the edges of the plume have not even been determined. We think that the City should demand that the plume be fully mapped; after all, people have been living over this plume for decades and deserve to know.

Further, several experts have questioned how effective the GETS system is likely to be. Dr. Jessie Meyer, an independent expert hired by the Water Utility noted in her January 2015 report (the date on the first page is incorrect) that “The range of hydraulic conductivities suggests the extraction well may draw water from specific intervals preferentially.”  In other words, it might pull water more from some depths than from others. She specifically questioned the assertion that the GETS would affect the leading edges of the plume—in fact, suggesting that it may not affect the edges of the plume at all: Although the source zone extraction well should hydraulically contain the high concentration source, it’s important to consider that it may not have any influence on plume front mobility as illustrated by Parker et al. (2010).” (italics added)

Ironically, in a January 21, 2013 Arcadis report, Kipp’s own expert stated that groundwater extraction and treatment (GWET–this is the same as GETS) was “widely criticized as inefficient and too expensive as a groundwater remediation technology” and was eliminated by Kipp as a remedial option “due to lack of effectiveness.” He wrote that GWET “may require many decades to achieve significant improvement in groundwater quality…” and based on this, “WDNR has indicated that it does not expect groundwater pumping to be an option for remediation at this site.” He advised that ISCO would be much more effective, and was “proven to be effective in remediating VOCs in groundwater to remedial goals at sites, such as the Madison-Kipp site, within a short period of time of one to two years.” (p. 13-14) Obviously, Kipp and DNR changed their minds later—perhaps when they realized that the ISCO wasn’t significantly lowering VOC levels in groundwater [v] and was also pumping the groundwater full of highly toxic permanganate (and manganese)—which is now being discharged into Starkweather Creek.

A city scientist asked by Mayor Soglin to evaluate the groundwater remediation options wrote in April 2013 that: “Pump and treat seems difficult and costly and may capture an aqueous plume but not remove vapors, DNAPLs or sorbed contaminants. Large volumes of pumped water from many extraction wells would still have to be treated (by air stripping, activated carbon, oxidation). CVOCs may not be amenable to treatment with solidification / stabilization.”

The citizens’ expert in the RCRA lawsuit, Dr. Lorne Everett, advised in his Dec. 2012 report that ISCO and groundwater extraction should be part of the remedial strategy for containing the plume, but that one ISCO injection point and one extraction well would not be enough to remediate or even contain Kipp’s giant plume. He also argued that no remedial strategy be very effective if the plume is not adequately characterized (which it has never been) and especially if pools of DNAPL (dense non-aqueous phase liquids) are not located and addressed. See pg. 1-2 of Dr. Everett’s April 30, 2013 memo for more explanation of this important issue.

To date, defying science and abundant evidence from the Kipp site, Kipp and DNR have adamantly denied that there is any DNAPL at the site. So they have never tried to characterize DNAPL—they avoid mentioning it. Why? Because they know that DNAPL sites are incredibly difficult to clean up and if they admit DNAPL is likely there, they will have to address how they are going to identify and remediate it.

 WSJ: “But a consultant hired by the Madison Water Utility has questioned the company’s contention that contamination was no longer spreading…”

MEJO: The consultant hired by the Water Utility, Dr. Jessie Meyer, did indeed question this contention in her report. She strongly critiqued nearly every aspect of the Kipp consultant’s report on the groundwater plume. Some of her key critiques: an inadequate conceptual model; highly flawed quantitative and qualitative analyses; over-simplified modeling; using inappropriate data in model; underestimating PCE source concentration; not recognizing DNAPL; using inappropriate parameters in modeling; and more. These significant methodological deficiencies allowed Kipp’s consultant to underestimate the mobility of the plume and, based on this, argue that it would never reach Well 8. Were these serious methodological problems purposeful, or just due to incompetence of Kipp’s consultants? Or, did Kipp’s law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, tell Kipp’s consultants (who work for the law firm) what they wanted the analysis to conclude (so they “adjusted” their model parameters to make it work out that way)?

Notably, Dr. Meyer agreed with Dr. Everett that PCE at the Kipp site likely entered the bedrock as a DNAPL, and that this should have been considered in their model (but wasn’t). Relatedly, she highlighted the importance of assessing fracture networks because they can provide pathways for contamination to migrate quickly away from the site: “It is important to recognize that high angle fractures exist in these bedrock units… providing important connectivity and vertical flow and contaminant migration pathways.”

She questioned Kipp’s use of a PCE source amount that was less than the amount Kipp likely used (based on available data) and a date for PCE release in the model that was much later than when PCE was known to be first released at the site. This choice of model parameters underestimated how far the plume may have migrated in many decades “…because largest transport distances occur in fractures during early years and decades when source concentrations are also very high.” In other words, Kipp’s consultant conveniently left these early years of PCE release, and likely high source concentrations of PCE, out of their model.

Dr. Meyer also stated that the Olbrich Well 8 test hole[vi]: “…can potentially serve as a pathway for contaminants to flow from the upper bedrock units into the Mt. Simon formation” (the deep aquifer). She recommended that the test hole be plugged to prevent such migration. The Water Utility has known about the Well 8 test hole for years.[vii] What are they going to do about it? Why is nobody discussing this publicly?

WSJ: “The utility hired a second consultant who is studying how monitoring wells could be placed in the path of the plume to gain more knowledge of its future flow, Grande said.”

MEJO: Hopefully this “second consultant” was not hired by the Water Utility to design his studies to assure the public that there is no risk to Well 8 in order to deflect public outcry when the Water Utility begins to use the well full time (which they are clearly determined to do despite the neighborhood association’s call not to use it and to focus on conservation instead).

The Water Utility already has a pretty good idea about potential Kipp plume pathways. Modeling by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS) in the last several years has elucidated various scenarios of where the plume would go under different Water Utility well pumping schemes. The Water Utility and WNHGS scientists have been analyzing these models for years, which show that the Kipp plume would likely have been pulled to the south/southwest with Well 8 not pumping or pumping part time, and Well 17 and 24 (both on the Isthmus east of the capitol) pumping full time—a common scenario for many years, since Well 8 has been used only in the summer.

The Water Utility, which receives ongoing advice from WGNHS scientists, knows this. This is one reason they originally planned the sentinel well in Elmside Circle Park, directly south of Kipp. So why wasn’t it ever placed there? Why have no other groundwater monitoring wells ever been placed to the south or southwest of Kipp? The DNR planned to place wells to the south of Kipp in the 1990s, but these wells never happened. Or did they? Perhaps Kipp and the agencies really do not want to know–or rather, do not want the public to know—about the extent of Kipp’s plume to the south/southwest, underneath homes in the Atwood neighborhood and toward Lake Monona?

 WSJ: Joe Grande: “Very small amounts of chemicals that PCE breaks down into have been detected at the well, but indications are they came from other area businesses.” 

MEJO: If there really are other businesses near Well 8 that have created big enough VOC plumes to reach Well 8: What are these businesses? Are these sources identified in the Well 8 Wellhead Protection Plan? Are there public documents about these plumes? Shouldn’t these big VOC plumes be investigated? What is being done to address these plumes?

 Kipp tried to claim there were other businesses responsible for the PCE breakdown product in Well 8 during the lawsuit and they couldn’t defend this claim with evidence. So what evidence does the Water Utility have that Kipp couldn’t find?

The Water Utility knows very well that the most likely other source of the PCE breakdown product in Well 8 other than Madison Kipp is the city-owned former Olbrich Landfill, under the baseball fields at Olbrich Park.

The Olbrich landfill was a non-licensed, non-engineered “open burn” landfill with no liner that operated between 1933 and 1950 and accepted residential waste, demolition waste, burned waste, foundry sand and other materials likely to be hazardous. It’s quite possible that Madison-Kipp, Kupfer Ironworks, and Brassworks (both now owned by Goodman Community Center) sent some toxic waste and metal scrap to this landfill during this period.

In 1995 when groundwater beneath the landfill was tested before building restrooms and a parking lot at Olbrich (over the landfill), several contaminants were found over the Preventive Action Levels (PALs) —e.g.: 3300 ug/L iron (PAL 150), 500 ug/L manganese (PAL 25), 18 ug/L cis 1, 2 dichloroethyelene (PAL 7 ug/L), 21 ug/L trans 1, 2 dichloroethylene (PAL 20 ug/L), 5 ug/L trichloroethylene (PAL 0.5 ug/L). All the wells were shallow— 17-18 feet deep, at the water table. If they had tested deeper down, they would have likely found higher levels.

By 1995, the Water Utility had already found low levels of cis 1,2 dichloroethylene and high levels of iron and manganese in Well 8. Could they have been related to the landfill? Or Kipp? Or both? From 1945-1999 (?), Well 8 was pumping full time, which would have pulled the Kipp and the Olbrich landfill plumes toward it.

In 2000 and 2001, groundwater was tested again at the landfill because the city was expanding Olbrich gardens and building a pedestrian bridge. Tests found up to 1270 ug/L iron, 564 ug/ manganese, 1.9 ug/L cis 1, 2 dichloroethylene and 2.4 ug/L trans 1,2 dichloroethylene. VOCs were tested once at just one shallow well. Other VOCs were likely there, but not detected because the detection limits were high. Also, again, if they had tested deeper they likely would have found higher levels.

Even with very limited shallow groundwater data to date (some indicating significant contaminant levels) and a drinking water well very nearby, with the DNR’s approval, the city didn’t do any more groundwater testing of VOCs after this.

 In 2003-2004, three wells at the landfill were tested. Iron and manganese, along with arsenic, chloride, lead, nitrate/nitrite, and sulfate were found at levels above the PALs. Iron and manganese were found in all samples were above the PALs and most were also above enforcement standards.

In 2005, then lead City Engineer Larry Nelson (who later became interim director of the Water Utility and then served on the Water Utility Board), wrote to the DNR requesting “a finding of no further investigation and remediation” for the landfill. He dismissed the findings of high levels of iron and manganese as not of concern: “Both of these metals are considered aesthetic parameters and the concentrations identified here are not considered health hazards.” (Actually, as discussed earlier, a growing body of scientific research shows that manganese is a neurotoxin and the EPA is currently considering setting health-based standards for it in drinking water)

Mr. Nelson’s letter concluded that: “In terms of the upper aquifer, it appears that the location of this public drinking water well is not downgradient of the landfill and therefore less likely to be impacted by migrating contaminants…there is little reason for concern.” He admitted that “[i]t is evident from the analytical data that the landfill is a source for some of the groundwater contamination which exists in this area (e.g., iron and manganese concentrations).” Oddly, even though Well 8 was known to have high levels of manganese and iron at that time, with little evidence to support this, he argued that “[n]o significant contaminants are entering the local groundwater system” and “[t]here is no apparent impact on the nearby municipal well (UW #8).”

At the end of the letter, he concluded, “Based on the site conditions listed above, the City believes that the landfill site is not causing significant environmental contamination or endangering human health and welfare. It is the City’s opinion that no additional investigation or remediation efforts are necessary for the Olbrich Landfill site and is requesting such a finding from the Department.”

In March 2005, the DNR agreed with the city’s request, and no further investigation was done.

However, ten years later, iron and manganese  are still a significant problem at Well 8, in Olbrich Park. A Water Utility official told me in 2015 that they hadn’t ruled out the Olbrich landfill as a source of VOCs, iron and/or manganese to Well 8.

The well will eventually have a filter to remove manganese and iron (currently slated for 2021). With many VOC plumes lurking all around the well—Kipp’s plume, the Olbrich Landfill plume, the mysterious “other businesses” that have VOC plumes—the Utility knows it might as well go ahead and put a VOC filter on Well 8 in addition to a filter for iron/manganese. So in the end, the ratepayers will pay to clean up the pollution from the Kipp, the city’s Olbrich Landfill, and apparently some unknown other businesses in the area with VOC plumes that have reached the well.

Why won’t the Water Utility admit publicly that in addition to the Kipp plume, the Olbrich Landfill is a likely source of the PCE breakdown product 1, 2 cis dichloroethylene, iron, and manganese to the well??

Last but not least…

WSJ: “DNR spokesman Andrew Savagian didn’t respond when asked why the DNR wasn’t requiring Madison Kipp to pay for the studies and monitoring” (referring to the Water Utility consultant’s forthcoming studies of the path of the plume)


It  is highly troubling that the DNR refused to talk to Mr. Verburg for this article

As far as Kipp, DNR, Water Utility and Well 8–the July 15 2013 lawsuit settlement included the following stipulations:

Public Drinking Water Supply. Subject to MKC’s reserved right to appeal, challenge, object to or litigate any decision or indecision of any governmental authority concerning the investigation or remediation with respect to the Facility, MKC will continue to work with WDNR and Madison city officials to take such reasonable steps as necessary to protect City Well 8 or other public drinking water sources from any impact attributable to the Facility.” (p. 8) (italics added).

To some extent, during the lawsuit, Kipp, DNR, DHS, city engineering and the Water Utility worked together on issues related to Kipp’s plume and Well 8. In the last year, comments made at Water Utility meetings indicate that this is no longer the case—that DNR has decided that addressing Kipp’s plume is just the Water Utility’s problem. It seems that both Kipp and DNR have decided they no longer need to work with the Water Utility on assessing the path and extent of Kipp’s groundwater plume and making sure it doesn’t get into drinking water wells. Perhaps Kipp is using its “reserved right to appeal, challenge, object to or litigate any decision or indecision of any governmental authority concerning the investigation or remediation with respect to the Facility”? As far as the DNR, isn’t it the agency’s responsibility to protect groundwater?

Shouldn’t there be public discussions of all of the above issues, each of which has significant implications for public and environmental health?????

To be continued in Part II…

[i]  This estimate is based on an average hydraulic conductivity of 7 ft/day and porosity of 20% (Ruekert/Mielke, 2011 on behalf of Madison Water Utility) and average gradient of 0.003 (RJN Environmental Serices, 2011, Annual Report).(Footnote in Everett’s report)

[ii] 64,800 gal/day = 1,971,000 gal/month; 3.78544 liters/gal = 7,461,102.2. liters/month; 1240 µg/ average X 7,461,102.2 L/month = 9,251,766,672 µg or 9.3 kilograms of VOC X 12 = 111.6 kg/year; 1 kg = 2.2 bs so 111.6 X 2.2 = 245.5 pounds of VOCs per year.

[iii] Because the permit is based on monthly averages, and discharge reports aren’t submitted to the DNR until the middle of the following month, daily VOC levels can go much higher than these limits (as long as the monthly averages are below them); if the monthly average levels go over the allowed limits, the DNR won’t know until the following month. In July 2015, the PCE and TCE levels did go above the limits, but DNR wasn’t notified till August. How does this approach protect Starkweather Creek from high discharges of toxic VOCs?

[iv] If we assume that the GETS discharge has about 549 ug/L in it, doing the calculations, this would be 549 X 7,358,895.4 Liters a month = 4,040,033,355 ug or about 4 kg per month or 48 kg per year or 105.6 pounds

[v] On June 26 2013, Kipp’s consultants (Arcadis) gave a presentation to DNR, DHS, PHMDC, and Kipp’s managers and attorneys (the EPA person involved with the Kipp site may have participated by phone). Arcadis highlighted that the ISCO treatment had been 99% effective in the “design zone” of the unconsolidated area (20-30 feet in depth). However, there was “complete rebound observed at most bedrock well locations due to back-diffusion between matrix and apertures.”  Consequently, they concluded that “matrix diffusion impedes active bedrock source treatment” with ISCO.

[vi] In 1945 when Well 8 was drilled, a “test well” was drilled adjacent to Well 8 that is connected to the main well in order to increase Well 8’s hydraulic capacity.

[vii] Many Madison drinking water wells have similar test holes, so the Water Utility’s repeated assurance to the public that contaminants from the surface cannot get down to deep drinking water wells because they draw water from below the protective Eau Claire shale is disingenuous at best. Water Utility officials know that surface contaminants in areas around these wells can seep through test wells and get into adjacent drinking water wells drawing from the deep aquifer.

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“Sound-blocking fence” at Kipp still does not block sound!

“Sound-blocking fence” at Kipp still does not block sound!

A year later, it remains a puzzle how this piddly wooden fence is considered a “sound-blocking” fence by the City of Madison when it obviously just does not block sound! See our previous story. The City of Madison gave Madison-Kipp Corp. $55,000 worth of rent credit to erect this fence to reduce noise that neighbors hear. That’s right, the City owns some of the land at the Kipp factory and yes, they gave them rent credit–the equivalent of giving them free rent– for a useless, non-sound blocking fence.

Click here to see how well the fence blocks Kipp’s factory noise from a backyard on S. Marquette St.


Kipp Sound blocking fence - where it was supposed to go




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