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Posts Written By: Jim Powell

Kipp’s Contaminant Plume Under Goodman Center–Are Children Exposed? Nobody Knows…

Kipp’s Contaminant Plume Under Goodman Center–Are Children Exposed? Nobody Knows…

Documents from Madison Kipp’s consultants, released by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) June 21, 2013, show that Kipp’s plume of toxic volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) is beneath the Goodman Community Center, and PCBs were found at levels above the residual contaminant levels (RCL) in the shallow soils along between the bike path and Kipp’s northern property line—just feet away from where teens recently built raised-bed gardens next to the bike path on the Goodman property.

Sadly, these findings are no surprise. DNR and local and state public health agencies have known about VOC hotspots on the north side of Kipp, and the soil/groundwater contaminant plume, since the 1990s.  The plume under Goodman should have been fully mapped before the property was purchased for the center in 2005, but was not. The center building should have been tested for vapor intrusion before it opened in 2008—and if not then, in more recent years—but was not.  Levels of PCBs, PAHs metals, and other contaminants in soils on the Goodman property should have been tested before excavations and garden projects, but were not (violating DNR laws; see previous article).

Are children, teens, and elderly at the center breathing toxic VOCs? Are they working with PCB, PAH and/or heavy metal contaminated soils in raised-bed gardens? Nobody knows. Nobody has measured, and apparently nobody plans to. Why not? Because government agencies just know there’s no problem!

Last fall John Hausbeck, from Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC), assured Goodman Community Center Executive Director Becky Steinhoff that “health hazards related to PCE and PCBs…do not exist at Goodman.” He said MEJO statements raising concerns were “alarmist” and that “saying kids at Goodman Community Center are in danger is wrong.” This summer Mr. Hausbeck reaffirmed again, with no monitoring data to back up his statements, that children at Goodman are not exposed to Kipp contaminants.

In other words: if you don’t monitor toxins, health hazards do not exist! Our public health agency calls MEJO “alarmist” and “wrong” simply for raising questions. Indeed, we think anyone who cares about protecting children’s health should be alarmed by the proximity of Kipp’s contaminants to children at Goodman and lack of data on what they are exposed to. Yet the local public health department blithely dismisses the idea that there could be any exposures at all.

We do not think we are wrong for asking questions about children’s exposures to toxic contaminants. It’s our health department’s “no data, no problem” approach, in our opinion, that’s wrong.

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Neighbors Settle for $7.2 Million But Many Kipp Environmental Injustices Still Not Addressed

The immediate neighbors around the Madison-Kipp Corp. factory settled their two class action lawsuits on Monday, July 15. The immediate neighbors and their attorneys will receive a total of $7.2 million and there will be additional pollution remediation at those plaintiffs’ properties. The $4.6 million federal court settlement can be found here; the $2.6 million state court settlement will be posted later.

Meanwhile, Kipp continues to pollute; nothing about its operations has changed and existing PCE plumes and PCB problems continue to affect children of color and the elderly at the Goodman Community Center (a neighbor that did not join the class action lawsuit), as well as Lowell Elementary School,  adjacent businesses, a wide swath of the surrounding Atwood neighborhood, a water well and Lake Monona.

A partial list of ongoing concerns:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to negotiate with Madison-Kipp about the EPA Notice of Violation issued last fall regarding serious air pollution violations involving chlorine, dioxin, and other hazardous air pollution emissions.
  • The PCB remediation around Kipp continues (will DNR ever test for dioxin, a contaminant found in PCBs)? Dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals ever studied
  • Preferential pathways for PCE contamination (utility corridors, sewers, storm drains) were never addressed at Kipp. So the full extent of shallow contamination offsite is unknown–which means the full extent of vapor intrusion in homes and businesses around Kipp is also unknown.
  • The extent of the PCE plume still isn’t fully defined; How deep is it? How far north does it go? How far south? Has it reached the lake?
  • Children at the Goodman Community Center are building raised-bed gardens about 50 feet from the most contaminated area at Kipp
  • High levels of contamination sit right under Goodman’s Ironworks Café. Nobody has assessed the depth of this contamination and whether it is causing vapor intrusion in the café. Why not?
  • The Wisconsin Department of Justice lawsuit regarding PCBs is still active
  • The Madison Water Utility is still unsure if it can use Well 8, down plume from Kipp’s PCE contamination and next to Lake Monona in Olbrich Park

To date, no public agencies nor elected officials have addressed–or even mentioned in reams of reports to date–pollution exposures to children at the Goodman Community Center and Lowell Elementary School. Are they completely unaware of what environmental justice means?

When will this change?

 

 

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Madison Water Utility Tells Customers “You Wingnuts Just Can’t Take a Joke!”…

Madison Water Utility Tells Customers “You Wingnuts Just Can’t Take a Joke!”… While Itron Corporation Laughs All the Way to the Bank

With his contract renewal going before the Madison Common Council on July 16, and given Mayor Paul Soglin’s recent call for training “to ensure everyone of Madison’s staff in every department understands that they cannot effectively and properly serve the public…unless every action, every word, is committed to gaining trust and dignity”, a review of Madison Water Utility General Manager Tom Heikkinen’s tenure is in order. The capstone of his five years in Madison has been the $14 million smart meter project, called “Project H2O,” which is behind schedule, rife with problems and so poorly implemented that more than 1250 customers have “opted out” to date. The following is a synopsis of Heikkinen’s interactions with his customers, the ratepayers of Madison, regarding smart meters.

In late 2011, a group of Madison citizens began raising questions about Madison Water Utility’s $14+ million “Advanced Metering Infrastructure” (AMI), which requires the placement of “smart meters” in every home and business in Madison. Citizens raised questions about health risks, efficacy and longevity of the meters, corporate influence on public utility functions, costs to ratepayers, privacy issues, and lack of broad public discussion in implementing the systems. See here and here for previous citizen commentaries on the smart meter fiasco. Citizens who questioned AMI were first ignored by the Water Utility, and then treated with thinly-veiled ridicule when they began attending meetings and demanding answers. But the group of citizens persevered—and grew—and eventually the Water Utility was pressured into offering an opt-out, albeit one with unjustified and punitive costs.

But the smart meter debacle is far from over.

On May 1, 2013, gloating about having weathered the smart meter debacle, Mr. Heikkinen depicted citizens who questioned AMI as “wingnuts” at a professional seminar for state water regulators. At the June Water Utility Board meeting, Mr. Heikkinen explained with a smirk that his presentation was “tongue-in-cheek” and meant to provide “comic relief.” Board members rushed to his defense, explaining that sometimes humor just doesn’t translate when people feel strongly about the issues at hand. The Board Chair lectured citizens on not being able to take a joke. Yet, a recent open records request has revealed how insightful citizens’ concerns and questions about AMI have been all along.  Installations of the smart meters have been beleaguered with significant problems, and the project is now far behind schedule. Citizen complaints about Corix, the company contracted to install meters, have been numerous and ongoing. Hundreds of installed meters are not working properly and will require “mitigation.” Since the contract with Corix is nearly over, the Water Utility has to hire LTEs to complete the large number of installations that are not complete yet. How much will the project run over its original $14 million cost? Who will pay for this? Utility rate payers, of course.

In addition to questions about the growing costs of AMI to Madison citizens, this ongoing debacle raises serious questions about increasing corporate influence over public functions in Madison, and about the state of democracy here overall. Water Utility emails reveal that the multinational Itron Corporation, which made millions selling its AMI system to Madison, has been advising utility and city leaders all along on how to answer—and often how to deflect—citizens’ questions about the system. Not surprisingly, much of the information Itron and industry consultants has provided to the Water utility—which then went to the public—has proven to be incorrect. Do we really want an international corporation telling our public agency leaders how to interact with the citizens they serve?

For example, after receiving initial citizens’ questions about smart meters in December 2011, Water Utility General Manager Tom Heikkinen’s first move wasn’t to respond to these citizens—his customers—but instead to contact Itron representatives for materials and advice on how to deflect them. Citizens continued to send questions, and while Heikkinen discussed them with Itron, citizens received no responses whatsoever for over five months—and then only after they finally went to a board meeting and demanded answers in person.

Worst of all, rather than engaging with citizens or their questions in these five months, the Water Utility instead worked behind the scenes to craft an ordinance that would threaten citizens with violations of law, huge fines, and possibly disconnection of water service if they didn’t cooperate with the smart meter installations. In a May 7, 2012 email message to Alder Sue Ellingson, assistant city attorney Doran Viste explained reasons for the ordinance changes: “…the ordinance changes will help empower the utility to gain access for the meter upgrades by giving it the ability to use citations and the threat thereof to gain access to properties where the owners/tenants are not being cooperative with the AMI upgrades” (emphasis added). The fines proposed in the ordinance ranged from $100 to $1000 per day. Inability to pay, or refusal to pay, would result in disconnection of water service. Alders Ellingson and Lauren Cnare agreed to sponsor these ordinance changes.

It wasn’t until the May 2012 board meeting, which several citizens attended after coming across the draft access ordinance on the meeting agenda, that utility leaders and board members were finally forced to directly acknowledge the questions they had been sending for months. Apparently, Water Utility leaders had hoped to quietly pass the highly punitive ordinance before citizens noticed—and without ever addressing their questions. Did the Water Utility hope threats in the ordinance would intimidate citizens and shut them up? Did Itron Corporation advise the Water Utility and City to develop this ordinance, perhaps based on lessons the corporation learned in other cities that implemented their systems and faced citizen resistance? This approach is not unexpected from a multinational corporation with $14 million at stake, and perhaps even the Water Utility; but why did our elected officials condone this?

Citizens, not deterred by the threatening ordinance attempt, but instead outraged by the antidemocratic approach, continued to ask questions and push for an opt-out. Finally, by the end of May 2012, Alders Anita Weier and Satya Rhodes-Conway suggested that the Utility develop an opt-out, which it decided to do some time in early June. The opt-out was announced publicly at a special June 19 city council meeting, but shared with alders and the mayor on June 12, when a smart meter-related resolution was tabled at a regular meeting.

Though pleased that an opt-out would be developed, citizens felt that many of their most critical questions about the AMI system (such as those about privacy issues, health risks, long-term costs, etc.) had not been adequately or honestly addressed. Some had not been addressed at all. So they petitioned the state Public Service Commission to require the Water Utility to address these issues. Unfortunately, the petition was eventually rejected by the PSC.

Nevertheless, citizens pressed on for answers to their questions. The Water Utility, apparently having not learning any lessons from what had already happened, continued to avoid engaging directly with them. Instead, Utility representatives trolled neighborhood discussion lists for citizen comments critical of AMI, at times refuting them in mean-spirited and patronizing ways. Citizen comments critical of AMI were forwarded to utility leaders.

On several occasions, Water Utility leaders gave citizens incorrect or highly misleading information, taken directly from Itron or smart meter industry consultants, apparently without any concern about the accuracy of these statistics. Since early 2012, citizens had been requesting accurate details about radio frequency signals emitted 24-7 by smart meters—information critical to understanding health risks. After months of asking, citizens finally received some questionable numbers from Itron and smart meter industry reports. Not trusting these numbers, citizens reviewed publicly available Itron specification sheets, and began monitoring installed meters with their own RF meters. They found that meters not only transmit strong bursts of radiofrequency radiation every 60 seconds, they also send signals out every five minutes that are orders of magnitude higher than the every-minute signals. After citizens sent Mr. Heikkinen info about these two signals, he emailed Itron asking for advice on how to rebut what citizens had found; instead, Itron told Mr. Heikkinen citizens were correct about the two types of signals. He never shared this information with citizens; to do so would have acknowledged they were right, and that the information the Water Utility had been sharing with the public all along was incorrect.

Most problematically, the Water Utility used some very questionable approaches to discredit citizens involved in anti-smart meter efforts, and to suppress public discussions and citizens’ efforts to share information critical of AMI. In July 2012, a member of the Water Utility Technical Advisory Committee, forwarded to Mr. Heikkinen and Board Chair Madeline Gotkowitz personal emails she received from a citizen who had been publicly sharing articles related to smart meter risks. Mr. Heikkinen and Ms. Gotkowitz (with Alders Cnare and Ellingson copied) then forwarded this citizen’s personal emails to the assistant city attorney, suggesting that she was a safety threat and asking if there was a way to ban her from audiotaping future water utility meetings. The assistant city attorney advised them that the citizen did not appear to be a threat, and that citizens have the right to tape WU meetings according to open meetings laws. The Technical Advisory Committee member, however, didn’t stop; on more than one occasion, she harassed and bullied citizens who were sharing information about smart meters at farmers markets and suggested that they didn’t have the right to be there. Did Water Utility leaders and city officials encourage this behavior? We don’t know, in part because critical emails were removed from the open records documents, with the excuse of “attorney-client privilege.” What is the Water Utility hiding? Regardless, we know that Water Utility leaders attempted to smear a citizen and ban her from recording public meetings, and to intimidate and silence citizens sharing opinions and information about an expensive publicly-funded project in public venues. This should be chilling to all Madison citizens who care about free speech and democracy.

Many months have passed since the opt-out policy was approved by the PSC. Even with the punitive opt out charges that were eventually developed, over 1250 customers have opted out (including one alder), and more will opt-out in coming months. Clearly, a large number of people have questions about these meters. Installation problems abound, and as of the summer of 2013, the smart meter program is not operational.

Meanwhile, however, Mr. Heikkinen apparently hasn’t learned anything about treating his monopoly customers—all Madison citizens—with respect, as the “wingnuts” comments referred to above demonstrate. He also made a special point to note in one PowerPoint slide that “the more PhDs, the less common sense,” illustrating his utter inability to respond to genuine, well-informed questions that demonstrated a greater knowledge of technical aspects of smart meter than he possessed.

Clearly a surreal reality exists at the Water Utility, where citizens and democracy are irrelevant—and the Water Utility Board, instead of providing independent oversight of the utility, is willingly playing along as rubber stampers, finding all Utility actions “in compliance” (to use their own jargon). Perhaps a change in leadership is needed; a change where customers are treated with respect, not contempt, and where democracy is the guiding principle.

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Kipp’s PCE contamination under–and past–Lowell School?

Kipp’s PCE plume on its way to drinking water well and Lake Monona

At the May 28 Madison Water Utility Board meeting, staff reported the following (from the minutes):

Madison Kipp Corporation/UW #8 Sentinel Well:

“Groundwater at the Madison-Kipp Corporation (MKC) facility continues to be monitored for VOCs. A new monitoring well (MW-25) was recently installed at the intersection of Ludington Avenue and Center Avenue, approximately 600 feet northwest of Unit Well 8. Preliminary sampling indicates low levels (1.6 ug-3.3 ug/l) of tetrachloroethylene (PCE) exist at a depth of 100-130 feet below the surface here. It appears that the edge of the PCE plume has reached this location. Conformational sampling has been conducted at this location and the pending result will be used to verify the presence and concentration of this compound. The installation of the sentinel well, proposed to be installed adjacent to Elmside Circle Park, remains on hold.”

In other words, the Kipp contaminant plume is under [and past] Lowell School. The phrase “the edge of the PCE plume has reached this location” implies that PCE just got there, but it is very likely the plume reached past Lowell School years ago [hence various breakdown products of PCE present in Well 8, which is past the school in Olbrich Park at the shore of Lake Monona.

Kipp should also pay for additional monitoring wells to the south and in the direction of Olbrich Park to determine the extent of its PCE plume in that direction. Who knows how many other homes and businesses have PCE under them?

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Ignorance is Bliss (Series Supplement)

Remember the Kipp Dioxin Debacle?

Lo and Behold, Kipp Has Been Producing Dioxins All This Time! (shhhh…..)

Dioxin from Kipp’s Stacks? An “Urban Myth” of “Misinformed Activists”!

The issue of whether or not Kipp produced dioxins was a focal point of citizen activism around Kipp for years (see previous article). Throughout the 1990s, many citizens in the Kipp neighborhood1 asserted that dioxins were produced by the factory, but Kipp denied the possibility that the factory could produce them. In 2000, citizens formed a group called Clean Air Madison (CAM), which organized meetings, wrote letters and press releases, and held protests about Kipp’s air pollution.

Read: MEJO Ignorance is Bliss Special Supplement 1

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New Data Maps Show Widespread Kipp Pollution

New Maps Show Alarming & Widespread Groundwater Contamination Around Kipp

Using just-released data at the Madison-Kipp 101- year old industrial site and surrounding neighborhood, Dr. Lorne G. Everett has produced new maps that illustrate the probable range of Kipp’s groundwater pollution. The maps show much more widespread volatile organic compound (VOC) contamination than the DNR previously believed existed at the site. The VOCs found in the groundwater include PCE, TCE, cis-1,2,-DCE and vinyl chloride. The new data suggest groundwater pollution goes well beyond Kipp’s property into the surrounding Atwood neighborhood, as far as Circle Park and Wirth Court Park. This new data suggest that more remediation will be necessary in a far larger area.

Everett Kipp plume maps

Dr. Everett is a retired “scholar of great distinction” at University of California at Santa Barbara. He is an internationally recognized expert who has conducted extensive research on subsurface characterization and remediation. He is Chairman of the ASTM Task Committee on Groundwater and Vadose Zone Monitoring. [Everett Resume]

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“Shocking” Levels of Contaminants Found at Madison-Kipp in Recent Tests

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—March 25, 2013

“Shocking” Levels of Contaminants Found at Madison-Kipp in Recent Tests

Recent tests at Madison-Kipp Corporation reveal “shocking” levels of PCEs in groundwater beneath the factory and offsite, according to Dr. Lorne G. Everett, an international hydrogeology expert and key witness in the RCRA civil lawsuit brought by neighbors against Kipp. Everett, who has worked with hundreds of contaminated sites worldwide, concluded that Madison-Kipp is “one of the most contaminated sites that I’ve ever worked with.”

In his deposition for the case, Dr. Everett also shared grave concerns about high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) recently found, stressing that PCBs pose the highest risk of all the compounds tested at Kipp to date. Soil samples just a few feet under Kipp, for instance, had PCB levels as high as 10,000 and 20,000 mg/kg—many thousands of times above U.S. EPA industrial direct contact levels. PCBs were also found at levels well above enforcement standards in some groundwater wells under the plant. “Madison-Kipp will have a deed restriction on their property forever…there is going to be a high source of a very toxic material at this facility forever,” Dr. Everett predicts, because PCBs are extremely difficult to remediate. (Everett Dep. 46)

Dr. Everett’s strong statements about the seriousness of Kipp’s pollution’s effects on Kipp workers and neighbors, as well as the surrounding community, follow from his December Kipp report—and parallel concerns raised by MEJO and Clean Air Madison (CAM) for many years.

Further, these shocking new findings, from monitoring wells tests by Kipp’s consultant ARCADIS, reiterate questions about the actions—or lack thereof—of the government agencies we rely on to protect public and environmental health. “Why did Madison, Dane County and Wisconsin government agencies not act on these serious contamination issues many years ago?” asks Dr. Maria Powell, MEJO President.  “Extremely high levels of chlorinated compounds, including PCE and its breakdown products TCE and vinyl chloride, have been documented in soils and groundwater under the Kipp site since 1994, yet agencies have only begun taking strong actions to monitor and remediate this pollution in the last year, after being prompted by the lawsuit.”

Also, Dr. Powell notes, “MEJO forced Kipp’s groundwater contamination issues into the public arena in early 2011 after they were kept quiet by Kipp and our government for over a decade.” Early that year, MEJO researchers obtained Kipp groundwater reports from the DNR, shared them with the neighborhood, and contacted media, elected officials, and government agencies. News stories in local papers and television stations followed.

Yet public agency officials repeatedly discounted most of MEJO’s questions about the extremely high levels of groundwater contaminants found under Kipp. In early February 2012, MEJO representatives met with city, county, and state agency officials to discuss our questions about the Kipp situation. “Among other things, we asked why a conceptual site model had never been developed for the Kipp site, and whether PCBs and dioxins (which are known to be emitted from Kipp’s stacks) had been tested in Kipp’s soils and groundwater.”

“Agency representatives didn’t feel that testing for these compounds was merited nor did they think it was possible for PCBs to get into groundwater,” Powell recalls. “They didn’t seem aware of the use of PCBs at Kipp, though it was documented in DNR files dating back to the 1980s.” Just a few weeks after this meeting, in March 2012, PCBs were found in soils at Kipp.   As recently as summer 2012, even the Madison Water Utility repeatedly discounted citizens’ concerns about Kipp contaminants getting into Well 8; in the summer of 2012, the utility decided to pump the well full-time because of the severe drought—despite calls from the SASY Neighborhood Association that it be turned off completely to prevent drawing in Kipp contaminants more quickly.

New data from wells off the Kipp property show that City of Madison Engineering maps of the contaminant plumes have greatly underestimated the depth and size of the plume. A new well on the north side of Goodman Community Center, for example, shows 3,600 ug/L of PCE, while the city engineering map predicted levels of 5 ug/L. Injection wells and other methods to control the plume, Dr. Everett says, will have to be done far to the north of Kipp, which will be “expensive and very controversial.” (Everett Dep. 55)

Notably, Dr. Everett also raised serious concerns about the people who have been perhaps most at risk for decades—Kipp workers. MEJO and other citizens have raised questions about the Kipp workers many times over the years, but have been assured by Kipp representatives that their workers are very healthy, though no legitimate exposure assessments or health studies have ever been done. To date, local and state government agencies have been largely silent on the risks to Kipp workers, who are not unionized. “Over a year ago when the Kipp contamination went public, I contacted the Wisconsin OSHA Consultation Program to see if they had assessed worker exposures,” said Dr. Powell. “I never received a response.”

Everett was scathing in his review of analyses done to date by ARCADIS, Kipp’s consultants, which largely downplay or discount risks to the people living right next to Kipp. “To conclude that there’s no risk to the immediate neighbors to this facility is unconscionable.”

Immediate neighbors of Madison-Kipp aren’t the only ones who will pay for Madison-Kipp’s pollution and government agencies’ inaction. “I think this groundwater resource is damaged for the foreseeable future,” says Dr. Everett. (Everett Dep. 57) “And who will pay for this? All Madison citizens,” notes Powell.

Dr. Lorne G. Everett Deposition: http://cleanairmadison.org/rcra/188%20-%20Deposition%20of%20Lorne%20Everett.22march13.pdf

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Ignorance is Bliss (Part 3 )

Toxic Contaminants at Madison-Kipp? Don’t Worry, There’s No Risk!

Overview: Toxic Contaminants From Above and Below

The U.S. EPA Notice of Violation that Madison-Kipp Corporation (Kipp) received in September 2012 raises many questions about the factory’s ongoing toxic air emissions and health effects among people living, playing, working, and going to school near Kipp—especially kids, elderly, ill, and other vulnerable people in the neighborhood. Lowell School, with an over 50% poverty rate, and Goodman Community Center, which serves many minority and low-income children, are right next to the factory. Knowing what’s really coming out of Kipp’s air stacks is more important than ever given what’s now known about the toxic brew of chemicals that has been spreading in soils and groundwater beneath the plant and seeping into neighborhood homes and buildings for decades. People in the Kipp neighborhood are exposed to numerous toxic chemicals from below and above—not just one chemical at a time. How is this affecting people’s health in the neighborhood? Nobody knows…

The recent EPA notice cited Kipp for inaccurate calculations and shoddy (or absent) record-keeping that could underestimate or hide emissions of hazardous air pollutants, especially chlorine, hydrogen chloride, and other highly toxic chlorinated compounds such as dioxin. EPA also cited Kipp for questionable practices inside the factory that could increase their emissions of toxic compounds. Yet this is nothing new. Kipp has shoddily reported, or failed to report, its toxic emissions for decades, making it next to impossible to assess what people in the neighborhood are exposed to day after day. Over the years, former Kipp workers and government employees have reported sloppy and unsafe practices inside the factory—including ongoing spills, broken and leaky storage containers, and the burning of dirty scrap in aluminum furnaces (a practice known to produce dioxin). The company has had numerous fires, accidents, and OSHA violations.

Meanwhile, for decades hundreds of citizens in the Kipp neighborhood have complained of toxic fumes and noise at Kipp, and raised questions about emissions of harmful chlorinated compounds such as dioxin. Countless health complaints and letters have been submitted to government agencies by citizens, including many asking for more thorough air monitoring and health studies. Hundreds of citizens have packed public meetings on Kipp.

Though a few government agency representatives have expressed some concern and taken some actions regarding Kipp’s pollution throughout all these years, for the most part public officials and agency representatives seem to be more interested in defending Kipp and assuring citizens that the factory poses low or no risks, even when abundant evidence exists to the contrary. Several health studies have been considered by public health agencies, but were dropped.

In 2013, decades after citizens first started raising questions about Kipp emissions—and in the midst of citizen lawsuits and EPA violations against the company—we still don’t really know how much dioxin and other hazardous pollutants are spewing out of the factory’s many stacks and pipes. Nobody knows exactly how deep and wide the plume of toxic contaminant the originated on the Kipp property decades ago is, even though that information is essential for assessing exposures and risks to people living around Kipp—and to the environment in Madison. Why not? And why do our government agencies seem more interested in serving and protecting Kipp, and other polluting industries, than in protecting the citizens they are paid to serve?

Parts 3 and 4 in this series focus on citizens’ struggles to address the factory’s pollution—and how Kipp and local and state government agencies have responded to citizens. Part 3 focuses on the period roughly between 1990 through the early 2000s, and Part 4, which will follow in coming weeks, will cover the early 2000s to the present.

Full article: MEJO Ignorance is Bliss Part 3

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Madison’s Smart Meter Fight in the News

Dumb Meter Update – Madison’s Smart Meter Fight in the News

As national concerns multiply about the dumb idea called “smart meters,” see what USA TODAY has to say about Madison citizens efforts to get its public water utility to “get smart.” MEJO President Maria Powell is quoted, “The whole premise that people are going to go online and look at their water usage day to day, it’s baloney. Most people aren’t going to do that.” The article came our February 15th, with the title, “Foes fight the tide of ‘smart’ water meters.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/02/01/smart-water-meters-fight-utilities/1884677/

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Ignorance is Bliss (Part 2)

Forgot to follow Wisconsin pollution laws? No worries, DNR doesn’t mind

In a previous article (below and here), MEJO explored whether the Goodman Community Center, built on a contaminated former industrial site, followed DNR statutory requirements they agreed to follow when excavating on the site after remediation. The DNR confirmed in Januray 2013 that the Goodman Center did not follow relevant laws. Will the DNR cite them for ignoring these laws? No. Apparently, following DNR laws is optional.

To recap: According to an Oct. 24, 2008 letter from the DNR, when doing any excavation on contaminated areas that have been capped—which includes most of the site—Goodman Center owners are required by DNR statutes to:

Sample and analyze excavated material to determine if residual contamination remains (or assume that it is contaminated and manage it accordingly)

  • If sampling confirms that contamination is present the property owner, determine whether the material would be considered solid or hazardous waste
  • Assure the all current and future owners and occupants of the property are aware that excavation of contaminated soil may pose an inhalation or other direct contact hazard and take special precautions during excavation activities to prevent health threats to humans
  • Keep an up-to-date maintenance plan and inspection log on-site regarding the contamination cap and/or barrier and make it available to all interested parties
  • Worker (in hard hat, bending over) working below grade at Goodman Center (October 2012)

Under “Prohibited Activities,” the 2008 DNR letter states that the following activities require prior written approval from the DNR:

Removal of the existing barrier;

Replacement with another barrier;

Excavating or grading of the land surface;

Filling on capped or paved areas;

Plowing for agricultural cultivation; or

Construction or placement of a building or other structure.

In 2008, when the Goodman Center property purchase was finalized, Goodman leaders signed documents agreeing to follow these laws, intended to protect people at and near the center from exposures to contaminants. MEJO’s review of DNR files revealed no documentation that they have followed these requirements for any of the several projects done on the property since 2008, including some excavations in fall 2012. Did they sign these closure agreements just for show?

Dumpster full of soil excavated from the Goodman site. Where did it go? Was it contaminated? Should it go to an hazarsous landfill? We’ll never know. (October 2012)

After numerous inquiries from MEJO, the DNR site manager for the Goodman site finally confirmed this month that Goodman Center leaders did not notify him prior to the start of their September 2012 excavation projects (nor earlier excavation projects, presumably, since there were no documents for those either). The Goodman executive director talked to the DNR about the statutes they are required to follow—but not till two months after the projects were completed and MEJO asked several times to see the required documents (which neither Goodman nor the DNR were able to produce). By that point, the soil had been hauled away to landfills without required contaminant testing. Clearly the DNR did not review any soil testing results nor issue approval letters before these projects were initiated, as the law requires.

Will the Goodman Center be cited—or reprimanded in any way—for violating DNR laws it agreed to follow? No. The DNR site manager assured us that everything was fine because “Based on our discussion the work crews who did the excavation were familiar with the site conditions and knew of the contaminated soil and the restrictions associated with managing the soils.” Moreover, the site manager concluded, he does “not consider this a significant issue, particularly since the work || crew knew they could potentially encounter contaminated material and the site had a cap that needed to be restored.”[1]

Maybe these workers “knew of the contaminated soil and the restrictions associated with managing the soils.” Maybe not. We’ll never know. However, if they did know of these statutory restrictions, why didn’t they follow them? And, isn’t it Goodman Center’s responsibility—not the workers’ responsibility—to make sure relevant DNR laws for the site are followed?

Goodman Excavation3| | Workers excavating and sweeping up afterwards. Did they know they were digging up contaminated soil? We hope so…| |

Goodman Excavation4

We hope these workers did in fact know they might encounter contaminated material, especially since one of the areas excavated was where the highest levels of PCE were found on the site during pre-closure testing. Clouds of dust were visible as workers excavated and swept up the site. But without testing the soil first, as legally required, how could they know whether or not the soil they were digging and breathing was contaminated and at what levels?

Further, contaminated site requirements are about much more than protecting the workers excavating the soil for relatively brief periods of time. What about center employees, café customers and, most importantly, the children using the center—especially those children playing 50 feet or less away from the excavation?  Apparently, neither DNR nor the Goodman Center is concerned that there was no testing of the soil before excavation and disposal, and that no information was provided to employees, customers or users. The DNR does not mind that the Center did not take required precautions to prevent contaminant exposures to children and others. 1

It seems, sadly, that despite statutes intended to protect the environment and public health, in practice, responsible parties such as Goodman Center (and the large polluting industry next door, Madison-Kipp Corp.) can ignore these laws and DNR project managers have wide discretionary powers on whether or not to enforce violations.[2]

Some may argue that the infraction at Goodman Community Center, a relatively small contaminated site, is inconsequential. We strongly disagree. Wisconsin DNR laws for contaminated and remediated sites such as the Goodman Center are intended to prevent unintentional and potentially harmful exposures to toxins among people at and near these sites—especially the most vulnerable people. Preventing such exposures is especially important at Goodman Center, which serves many low income children, children of color, and the elderly, and is surrounded by schools, daycare providers, and a neighborhood with many children and seniors.

Goodman Garden and Chicken CoopBecause Goodman Center leaders did not follow laws they agreed to follow when they built the center, we do not know whether the soil excavated from the center’s property (which likely reflects levels of contamination in soil that is still there now) was contaminated, or to what degree.[3] We do not know if contaminated dust from the excavations settled on gardens and compost piles at the center. We do not know whether Goodman Center employees, people in the Ironworks Café, or children playing a few feet away inhaled contaminated dust as workers excavated soil—or what they will be exposed to over the longer-term as this dust is disturbed and re-circulated into air and onto surfaces.

Food pantry bread and produce out during adjacent excavation–free for the taking (October 2012)

Last but not least, this unfortunate situation poses broader questions. If Goodman Center andMadison-Kipp Corporation can blatantly ignore DNR laws and get away with it, how many other industries in Madison and throughout Wisconsin are allowed to as well? How many laws is Kraft Oscar Mayer ignoring? Madison Gas and Electric? When global corporations dig new mines in northern Wisconsin, will they violate or ignore DNR laws? If they do, can we really trust the Wisconsin DNR to do anything about it?

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[1] If this project was intended to “restore the cap,” this is the first we’ve been told that, even though we asked numerous questions related to this for months prior to this statement. If it true that this project was intended in part to restore the contaminant cap, this poses further questions. If the cap was broken–how long was it broken, and did damage to the cap increase potential exposures to children and others near that area? Why didn’t the DNR or Goodman Center provide copies of the Maintenance Plan they are required to keep on-site and up-to-date “in order to maintain the integrity of the paved surfaces, landscaped areas and/or the building?” (Contaminated Soil Cap Maintenance Plan, Goodman Community Center, October 2008).

[2] DNR officials were not able to point to any legal documents explicitly allowing the use of such discretion in this case—or any guidelines for discretion regarding excavation at remediated sites (e.g., amounts of soil excavated below which requirements do not need to be followed).

[3] Goodman’s closure documents state that some chlorinated contaminants (e.g., PCE) beneath the Goodman property are from Madison-Kipp Corp. Perhaps this is why the DNR does not measure soils and vapors at the center despite its close proximity to Kipp? Perhaps Madison-Kipp does not want anyone to open that can of worms?

MEJO Ignorance is Bliss Part 2

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