Madison Water Utility

Pesticide use on public lands skyrocket

Pesticide use on public lands skyrocket

Government use of pesticides has been increasing as public officials lose institutional memory and have no links to the past (and successful) actions of citizens and elected officials back when pesticides were seen for the toxins that they are. Here’s an article from the Cap Times on how that is playing out in Madison, Wis.

Toxic debate: Critics say Madison’s pesticide use has gotten out of hand

More here…

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THE TRUE COST of Burning Military Munitions

THE TRUE COST of Burning Military Munitions

By Laura Olah, Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, Cease Fire Campaign

Toxic pollutants are released when munitions are open burned, open detonated or incinerated. These toxic emissions endanger public health by contaminating air, groundwater and soils near open burning/open detonation (OB/OD) operations. Military personnel are often the most exposed to these toxic pollutants, along with nearby communities. Across the country, hundreds of communities and thousands of military personnel have felt the adverse effects of these toxic pollutants.

To learn more, watch this short video.

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EPA proposes the first chemical ban in 27 years–TCE

EPA proposes the first chemical ban in 27 years–TCE

From Environmental Defense Fund, by Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., a Senior Scientist with the Health Program.

Today, EPA issued a proposed rule to ban uses of trichloroethylene (TCE) as a spot cleaning agent in dry cleaning and as an aerosol spray degreaser in commercial and consumer settings. This marks the first time in 27 years EPA is proposing to restrict the use of a chemical and represents a significant milestone under the Lautenberg Act.

The proposed ban is long overdue for a chemical that is highly toxic and produced in very high volumes (255 million pounds annually). TCE is classified as a known human carcinogen by numerous authoritative bodies, including the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Many studies of TCE also reveal additional health impacts including but not limited to immune toxicity, developmental toxicity (e.g., fetal cardiac defects), and neurotoxicity (e.g., Parkinson’s disease).

Read the rest here.

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Where’s The Next Flint Water Crisis? Anywhere

Where’s The Next Flint Water Crisis? Anywhere

From HuffPost Politics (April 5).

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, local governments nationwide have had to assure residents worried about brain damage and miscarriages that their drinking water meets or exceeds all federal standards.

Philadelphia officials tried to quell concerns about lead poisoning after activists, in a series of news stories and a public hearing, questioned the city’s strategy for protecting the water.

“The Philadelphia Water Department is in compliance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule,” John Quigley, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said in an interview. “Period. Full stop.”

Another city in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule, the nation’s core regulation for lead in water: Flint, Michigan.

Complying with federal water regulation, it turns out, doesn’t necessarily mean a city’s water is lead-free. All it means is that the amount of lead coming through faucets is beneath an arbitrary level. The rule essentially says that using lead pipes for drinking water is fine, even though childhood exposure to lead can cause permanently diminished intelligence and behavioral problems — serious ones. Widespread poisoning from leaded gasoline has emerged as a plausible explanation for rising and falling crime rates in the second half of the 20th century.

Read the rest of the article here.



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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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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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“Mother Nature, though wounded, begins to take care of it,” says polluter

“Mother Nature, though wounded, begins to take care of it,” says polluter

At a March 19 public presentation, the president of Madison-Kipp Corporation described various pollution remediation actions that the aluminum parts manufacturer is belatedly being forced to do by the Wisconsin DNR, as a result of decades of citizen complaints and recent lawsuits. A sparsely attended meeting at the Goodman Community Center, adjacent to Kipp, was the setting for the hour long presentation by its CEO, Tony Koblinski.

Describing the expansive Kipp PCE  pollution plume that extends underground through the Atwood neighborhood, Koblinski assured attendees that over time “Mother Nature, though wounded, begins to take care of it.”

About a dozen public officials from various state, county and city agencies sat at tables in the back, but did not speak even once during the meeting (though many of Mr. Koblinski’s statements were unsubstantiated by the evidence and/or incorrect). We have never seen a neighborhood meeting to address environmental and human health concerns completely turned over to the polluter, as was done at this meeting. Now we know what it looks like. It was very disturbing.

MEJO videotaped the event, over the objections of Koblinski who apparently has never been to a public meeting (where this is commonplace). Click the links below to watch the video, which is being presented as part of the public record regarding this ongoing saga of a loud and smelly old factory, a century of pollution, and a residential neighborhood.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

[This is the entire presentation, except for few seconds at the beginning that we missed and the times when we switched out full video cards.]
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Kipp Offers Water Utility Some Advice: Run Olbrich Well 24/7!

Kipp Offers Water Utility Some Advice: Run Olbrich Well 24/7!

In a February 26, 2014 email Madison-Kipp Corporation advised the Madison Water Utility to pump the Olbrich Well (Well 8) full-time, after the Water Utility Board asked for assurance from the Wisconsin DNR that Well 8 will not be impacted by Kipp’s contamination plume.

Apparently the Water Utility is considering using Well 8 full-time again, despite knowing that the well is very likely connected to the upper aquifer, making it highly vulnerable to the significant contamination spreading from Kipp. This information, found in Kipp’s consultant report on DNR website, flies in the face of repeated assurances from the Madison Water Utility and Kipp over the last several years that Well 8 is protected from Kipp’s contamination by the Eau Claire shale layer. See footnote for more information and a link to the report.

In the Feb. 26 email, Kipp’s consultant, at the request of Kipp CEO Tony Koblinski, asserted that “all of the data, information, and best available science indicate that Unit Well 8 will not be impacted by PCE in groundwater at the Madison Kipp site if Well 8 operates 24/7.” In support of this, among other things, Kipp claims that “the vertical extent of PCE has been delineated at the Madison Kipp site,” “is not deeper than 170 feet,” and the “the PCE plume has stabilized and is no longer expanding.”

These claims are completely unsubstantiated by evidence. The vertical and horizontal extents of the Kipp plume have never been fully delineated, as this memo describes, and communications among government officials also state. Since nobody knows how deep and wide the Kipp plume really is—because there hasn’t been enough testing— it is impossible to verify that the plume is “stabilized” and “no longer expanding.”

This raises many questions. One big one: Why would it be to Kipp’s advantage to pump Well 8 full time? We speculate on this and other questions in an upcoming post. Please send your thoughts on this to info “at”


The Well 8 log is in the last 3 pages of this report. On p. 9 of the report, it states:

“The City of Madison drinking water source is groundwater from various sandstone bedrock formations. Municipal Unit Well 8 is the closest municipal well to the Site and is approximately 1,400 feet southeast of the Site (Figure 1). Municipal Unit Well 8 is cased to 280 feet bls, below the Eau Claire shale aquitard, and is an open bedrock well across the Mount Simon Formation from 280 to 774 feet bls (McCarthy, 1945). According to the Unit Well 8 boring log (Appendix C), dynamite shots were used in a nearby test borehole at depths of approximately 380 feet, 430 feet, 480 feet, and 530 feet to fracture the bedrock between the test and Unit Well 8 borehole to increase the specific capacity of Unit Well 8. After the boreholes were connected by fracturing the bedrock, Unit Well 8 was tested at a pumping rate of approximately 1,965 gallons per minute with 65 feet of drawdown, yielding a specific capacity of approximately 30 gallons per minute per foot of drawdown.”

The “test well” they are referring to above is not cased through the Eau Claire shale. This means it is open to the upper aquifer. Because the test well and the production well have been connected (via dynamite shots), essentially the two wells are connected. In sum, this means that Well 8 is very likely connected to the upper aquifer through the test well hole. Government officials at city, county, and state agencies have known about this for some time, but have never shared this information publicly.

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Oops!!! Maybe a Raingarden for Kipp’s Toxic Runoff Wasn’t a Good Idea After All?

Oops!!! Maybe a Raingarden for Kipp’s Toxic Runoff  Wasn’t a Good Idea After All?


 Children Creating Kipp Raingarden in 2006–Mucking Around in Kipp’s PCBs! Original Photo Caption from the 2006 Rock River Newsletter: Whitehorse Middle School science students seemed to enjoy rolling up their shirtsleeves and  pants legs to plant more than 2,000 of the 3,200 plants at the Friends of Starkweather Creek rain garden at Kipp and the bike path in Madison. A casualty of the muck: one pair of a student’s flip-flops and one of Susan Priebe’s pink “Crocs.” For photos and more information, see:


In an October 9, 2013 letter, Wisconsin DNR and City of Madison asked Madison Kipp Corporation to remove contaminated soil from the raingarden built next to MKC on city property in 2006 by Whitehorse Middle School students and teachers (in the photo above) along with many other volunteers. Soil tests done by Kipp consultants in the raingarden in June 2012 showed polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) levels above the residential and industrial “direct contact” residual contaminant levels (RCLs); in other words, direct physical contact with this soil should be avoided.[1]

We commend the DNR and City for finally asking Kipp to excavate this contaminated soil. But why did they wait over a year after Kipp consultants tested soils in the garden area share this data with the public and ask Kipp to excavate? Also, recently posted documents don’t tell the whole story. Kipp consultant documents posted by the DNR on Nov. 1 selectively highlight results from only one soil boring, not reporting results from borings just a few feet away showing much higher levels of PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). For instance, one shallow boring on the edge of the raingarden, not reported in recent documents, had total detected PCB levels of 45 ppm— significantly higher than the residential RCL (.222 ppm) and the industrial RCL (.744 ppm). The levels reported from just one boring were much lower (.82 and 2.5 ppm), though still higher than the RCLs.

Documents also don’t mention that all soil tests in the raingarden area showed that tetrachloroethyene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), 1, 1,-dichloroethene, carbon tetrachloride and vinyl chloride were much higher than the “soil to groundwater pathway” residual contaminant levels (also called RCLs). In other words, these chemicals in the soils pose risks to groundwater, which is very shallow in the raingarden area—only 10 or less feet below the surface. This is more than a little ironic, given that the purpose of the raingarden is to encourage contaminants to filter downward.[2]

Further, in all raingarden soil samples, arsenic levels were much higher than residential, industrial, and groundwater RCLs. Kipp consultant documents dismiss this, noting that “The presence of arsenic in the rain garden appears to represent naturally occurring background conditions.” Whether or not all of this arsenic is “naturally occurring,” arsenic is still very toxic to humans and in many places is becoming a significant problem in groundwater. Given this, why are these levels being dismissed? Why is there so much arsenic, natural or not (likely both) everywhere in surface soils? Metal smelting (which is what Kipp does) is known to produce arsenic, but that couldn’t possibly have added any arsenic to the soils next to the plant, right? Why isn’t anyone even asking this question?

Sadly, regardless of these findings, public health officials are dismissing or ignoring obvious human exposures to these soils in disingenuous (if not absurd) ways. When we raised questions about exposures to children who created this raingarden, in an October 2012 article, public health officials ridiculed us as “alarmist” and “wrong,” even though by that point raingarden soil tests (not shared publicly yet) had already verified that the area was quite contaminated. More recently, in a Nov. 5 Wisconsin State Journal article, John Hausbeck from the Madison Dane County Public Health Department assured us that “Those using the bike path generally would not be exposed to what’s going on in the ditch” (no duh! as if that is what people are concerned about…). But he said nothing at all about exposures to the children who created the raingarden—and people who have maintained the garden since 2006.

Were the children and adults working in close contact with this soil aware of the contamination, so they could take precautions (gloves, boots, etc) as any workers who will now excavate the soil are expected to?[3] Based on the photo above, no. Would parents of the children who helped create the garden let them work there had they known about the contamination? We doubt it.

This sad situation raises many questions about why city, county, and state government officials allowed this raingarden there in the first place—and why the neighborhood so enthusiastically supported it.[4]

The raingarden project was funded by a Dane County Water Quality Initiative Grant and coordinated by the Rock River Coalition, and was lauded by the neighborhood, government agencies, and Mayor Cieslewicz. Project partners included SASYNA, City of Madison, Madison Kipp Corporation, Madison Gas and Electric Co., AtwoodCommunity Center, Glass Nickel Pizza and Whitehorse Middle School. It was created explicitly to address runoff from MKC and to protect Starkweather Creek. According to the Rock River Newsletter (link above) about the project, Whitehorse students and volunteers “helped plant, apply weed barrier, and mulch. The rain garden will help capture stormwater runoff coming from the Kipp parking lot…and protect a fen-like area around Starkweather Creek (emphasis added).

We think raingardens are great, and we commend efforts to protect Starkweather Creek from further pollution. By 2006 the creek had already been polluted for over 100 years by Kipp, Rayovac (now gone), numerous other industries, the airport and widespread non-point urban runoff (in the 1990s, a huge quantity of PCB and metal-contaminated sediment was dredged from the creek). But was a raingarden the appropriate (or ethical) way to deal with highly contaminated runoff from Madison Kipp (or any heavy industry), given what was known at that point? By 2006, Kipp and DNR documents dating back to the 1990s showed that contaminated runoff from the most toxic hotspots at the Kipp factory went for decades into a drainage ditch that emptied into the rain garden area. Kipp officials, of course, also knew that they had used PCBs for decades on the parking lot next to the raingarden area—the same parking lot the raingarden was supposed to capture runoff from.[5]

Why would anyone think a raingarden is a good way to deal with toxic runoff from MKC? Even more troublingly, why would anyone think that having children build such a garden in that location is OK? At the least, why didn’t agencies involved have the soil tested before the raingarden was created?[6]

Unfortunately, this situation reflects the ongoing denial among government agency officials, including the ones responsible for protecting public health, that there could be any actual exposures to toxins among people around Kipp, and especially to the most vulnerable—children. While Kipp consultants continue to measure high levels of very toxic contaminants on and around the Kipp property, no matter what the results, officials deny that anyone is (or was ever) exposed, despite abundant and obvious evidence to the contrary. They marginalize and discount anyone who even raises questions about possible exposures as “alarmist.” Why?

[1] When the garden was built, 2-4 feet of soil were excavated and backfilled with “new” soil (consisting of sand, compost, and topsoil). It is highly likely that the original soil excavated was much more contaminated than the backfill, given that this area was the recipient of decades of toxic runoff from the Kipp property. However, the 2012 tests suggest that the fill may have been contaminated as well and/or that Kipp runoff since 2006 contaminated it (or both). Where did the original soil go? Where did the fill soil com from?

[2] Ironically, the consultant for the city (CGC, Inc.) that did the original analysis of this site concluded that “Based on the relatively thick layer of low permeability clay encountered in the borings, this site does not appear suitable to infiltrate significant quantities of rainwater.”

[3] Kipp’s consultant documents state that “If any soil is excavated below grade…personnel shall wear appropriate personal protective equipment to limit exposure to the contaminants…” (August 2013, ARCADIS Materials Handling Plan).

[4] MEJO leaders questioned garden proponents about the safety, efficacy, and ethics of this garden in 2005-6, but were ignored.

[5] The soil removed to create the raingarden was likely much more contaminated than the soil that replaced it. DNR claimed not to have known about the use of PCBs on the parking lot till 2012; this may be true, but they would have at least known about the possibility that PCBs were used on the parking lot had they read documents Kipp consultants submitted to them. Regardless, the agency certainly knew about all the other toxic contaminants found throughout the Kipp property and the drainage ditch that for decades emptied into the raingarden area. MKC’s enthusiastic support for the raingarden project raises even more troubling questions. Did MKC, perhaps, support the raingarden project in part because they wanted the soil there to be excavated to remove highly contaminated soil they knew would be there?

[6] The consultants who did the soil boring for this project (CGC, Inc., subcontracted to Kitson Environmental Services) noted that they had not screened for environmental contaminants because they had not been asked to by the City. Their disclaimer section read: “Unanticipated environmental problems have led to numerous project failures (emphasis in original). If you have not yet obtained your own geoenvironmental information, ask your geotechnical consultant for risk management guidance. Do not rely on an environmental report prepared for someone else.” But apparently the City never did any soil contaminant testing or asked for any advice on “risk management” from their consultant.


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