Photo: Madison-Kipp raingarden in August 2014; behind it, Kipp was building a new curb and fence and paving parking lots, without the required approval and permits. MGE was digging around transformers, with dirt all over the parking lot, draining into the raingarden…
Sadly, the long and convoluted saga of the Madison-Kipp raingarden–otherwise known as the Toxic Sludgegarden– is not yet over. See previous stories here and here and here.
This past summer, we asked city officials if they had tested for PCBs in the Kipp raingarden, which the company leases from the city. This testing was required by their city lease, signed in June 2015. Over a year later, in mid-October 2016 (in response to our repeated queries?) the city finally tested for PCBs in the raingarden. So the city lease was violated from June 2015 to June 2016, and city officials apparently didn’t mind. Would they have even tested if citizens didn’t ask about it?
On November 17, 2016 John Hausbeck from Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC) informed city and state officials that the October tests found 7 ppm (mg/kg) of PCBs in shallow soils about 18 inches from the stormwater pipe that drains into the raingarden from the Kipp site–see map and results. This level is nearly ten times above the allowed industrial “residual contaminant level” (RCL) that city and state officials agreed to use for this area (0.74 ppm)–and over 30 times the residential RCLs (0.22 ppm) that are more appropriate for this public area, which is zoned residential. The reasons government officials decided to use industrial standards for this area–and who actually made these decisions–are not clear (see below).
Where did these PCBs come from since the last time the raingarden was tested—in May 2014? Perhaps this timeline and photos can provide some clues…
The city lease says that if contamination is found in the raingarden, “the Lessee” (which is Kipp) “shall also determine the source of the contamination…” Hausbeck speculated on the sources: “It is not clear where these PCBs have come from…All the samples were collected in the top one foot, so they should all represent clean topsoil.” He listed some possible sources. “They may have been carried by storm water into the rain garden from adjacent excavations, or come from contaminated sediment that entered the storm sewer pipe from breaks that were later fixed. Both of these potential sources were stopped last year and are no longer adding PCBs to the rain garden.” Was he referring to this pipe?
The “hotspot” found in October will be excavated at some point in the future, and further tests will be done. Will warning signs be placed along the bike path during excavations? Citizens asked that warning signs be placed along the path before and during past PCB excavations, so people could avoid the area if they wanted—and warn children not to play there—but the city refused, due to concerns about their legal liabilities. Neighbors posted their own signs, which were taken down the next day.
Why aren’t residential PCB standards being used? Did the DNR closure supercede the city lease? Who made these decisions?
Sadly, city and state officials have chosen not to err on the side of protecting the public in their decisions about what RCLs to use. Neighbors and other community members have argued repeatedly since the PCBs were discovered that the city should use the lower, more protective residential RCLs for the raingarden and the grassy area along the bike path, in line with DNR policy (again, see footnote 1). But apparently citizens’ input about how much toxic contamination should remain on public land does not matter to our government officials.
Oddly, in March 2015, Kipp and DNR agreed on residential standards for the area long the bike path, but something changed after that. The DNR has leeway to ask for an even more stringent RCL for such areas—and some experts think that would be appropriate for this heavily-used public area next to a community center, a children’s splash pad, a compost area, and many homes (see footnotes).,. The city, which owns the raingarden and bike path areas, also presumably has the authority to ask that a lower RCL be used.
In fact, Kipp’s final lease with the city says the following, on pg. 5:
“The City shall, in consultation with the Lessee, conduct periodic sampling of the Biobasin for new environmental contamination. If the annual environmental sampling indicates new PCB contamination to the Biobasin, the Lessee shall remediate the contamination according to local, State, and federal standards… New contamination shall be defined as shallow soil sample results above the DNR residential direct contact standard (RCL) for PCBs.”
Confusing matters further, as far as the city-owned Kipp driveway area next to the PCB-contaminated ditch along the bike path, the lease requires cleanup to residential standards in the future; it says on pg. 2: “WHEREAS, the DNR, the City and the Lessee have agreed that the Parking Improvements shall serve as an environmental cap throughout the remainder of the Lease term, and any further renewals or extensions thereof, and that upon the expiration or termination of the Lease the Lessee shall remove the Parking Improvements, remediate the contaminated soil to the DNR approved, site-specific, nonindustrial (residential) direct contact standard, and restore the Leased Premises as hereinafter provided, unless otherwise agreed to by the City and DNR.”
So why is the city only requiring cleanup to industrial standards in the raingarden and along the grassy areas next to the bike path? Was the change to industrial standards “agreed to by the City and DNR” in the months between when the lease was signed and the DNR closure was approved? Did the DNR closure of the raingarden and bike path areas supercede the city lease?
Three months ago, we asked city officials to explain this, but have not received a response.
Why was closure granted without testing? Why isn’t stormwater from Kipp tested?
In June 2016, after Kipp asked for “closure” for the raingarden and bikepath areas, I asked DNR officials Linda Hanefeld and Mike Schmoller how they knew the raingarden wasn’t re-contaminated since May 2014. They didn’t respond. The DNR South Central Closure Committee, which Hanefeld and Schmoller are both on, approved closure for the area in July 2016.
This sad saga raises many questions about city and DNR decisionmaking and whose interests they serve. Wouldn’t it have been a better idea to test raingarden soils after all the excavations were done, before leasing the area to Kipp, and before approving closure? Doesn’t it seem like common sense—as citizens have asked repeatedly for years, to no avail—to periodically test the stormwater draining from Kipp into the raingarden to make sure this water is not re-contaminating the soils there? Apparently, according to the “common sense” of city and state regulators, NO.
Shouldn’t the citizens our city, county, and state government officials serve have some say in these decisions?
 DNR NR 720 says “Responsible parties shall classify the land use of a site or facility as industrial if all of the following criteria are met: 1. The site or facility is currently zoned for, or otherwise officially designated for, industrial use. 2. More stringent non−industrial residual contaminant levels for soil are not necessary to protect public health on or off the site or facility. Note: Situations where a non−industrial classification would apply include site or facilities which could otherwise be classified as industrial, but where proximity to non−industrial land use, such as residential housing located across the street, makes a non−industrial classification more appropriate.” (emphasis added)
 A memo from Kipp’s consultant Arcadis to Schmoller dated March 13, 2015 said that the grassy area on city property along the bike path would be considered residential– and residential RCLs would be used.
 “November 2014 USEPA – DNR agreement on PCB cleanup,” says “EPA may require a cover or a cleanup to more stringent cleanup levels than are otherwise required based on the proximity to areas such as residential dwellings, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, playgrounds, etc.” and “depending on the form or isomer of PCB, the RCL for non-industrial sites without a cover can be as low as 0.0000341 mg/kg.” City and state agencies should be requiring PCB congener testing, but they refuse to do so.