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Polluter Pleased with Paltry Penalty

Polluter Pleased with Paltry Penalty

Photo: Past excavations of PCBs along bike path next to Madison-Kipp Corporation

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) finally settled the civil action against Madison-Kipp Corporation it initiated in September, 2012 regarding the decades of discharges of numerous toxic chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE) and many others from the plant. The settlement includes a $350,000 fine—most of which is to cover DNR, DOJ, and court costs—along with “financial assurances” from Kipp of to cover future cleanup costs.[1] The settlement allows the company to delay cleaning up the high levels of PCBs under the factory, perhaps indefinitely. For more details about the settlement, read Steve Verburg’s Wisconsin State Journal article.

Tony Koblinski, Kipp’s CEO, told the State Journal he is “pleased with the settlement.”

Of course he is pleased.  After all, Kipp officials asked the DOJ to sue it back in 2011-2012. As we wrote in a previous post, the lawsuit was intended all along to allow Kipp to legally negotiate its way out of fully investigating and cleaning up the egregious toxic pollution it spewed far and wide into groundwater, surrounding neighborhoods, Starkweather Creek, and Lake Monona.

The fine DOJ issued against Kipp is paltry—a drop in the bucket for the company. Another big bonus? The settlement also protects the company from future lawsuits! [2]

So, Kipp got what it wanted–with the help of its high-powered law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, which negotiated with DOJ attorneys for five years while citizens were in the dark.

As for the environmental investigations and remediation requirements outlined in the settlement, most are weak and/or include loopholes that would allow Kipp to avoid fully cleaning up the contamination. The groundwater PCB testing outlined in the settlement is particularly problematic; it is technically inadequate on a number of levels and designed not to find that PCBs have traveled offsite in groundwater. This is extremely critical, because if tests show PCBs have moved offsite in groundwater, this could trigger excavation of PCBs under the factory.

Another significant problem is that many of the environmental investigative and remedial requirements in the settlement depend on DNR’s discretion and oversight, which to date have been lax and inadequate (DNR’s lax oversight of Kipp in the past allowed the horrible contamination situation at Kipp to develop in the first place!). Unfortunately, in the current de-regulatory environment in Wisconsin, DNR’s oversight of Kipp is not likely to improve, and will likely get worse.

Meanwhile, people and the environment around Kipp will continue to be exposed to hazardous chemicals from the factory, including highly toxic PCBs, indefinitely.

 

[1] The “financial assurance” is to be up to $1.65 million and according to the WSJ article, could be in the form of a bond, insurance policy, or letter of credit. We expect it will be covered by Kipp’s insurance.

[2] The settlement states: “Compliance by Madison-Kipp with its obligations under this Stipulation and the Order for Judgment shall constitute full compromise, settlement, satisfaction, and release of Madison-Kipp, its owners, members, employees, predecessors, successors, parents, subsidiaries, affiliated companies, officers, directors, agents and assigns for any and all civil and/or criminal liability for any and all violations described in, arising out of, or relating to the facts alleged in the Complaint, as well as any claims that could have been alleged against Madison-Kipp based on any violation concerning the release or discharge of hazardous substances at the Facility which were reported to or otherwise were identified for or by DNR prior to the date of this Stipulation.”

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Madison polluter doesn’t like what he reads

Madison polluter doesn’t like what he reads

Graphic from the Nov 2, 2017  Isthmus weekly newspaper

The Wisconsin State Journal published an October 28, 2017 article, “Best estimate is plume from Madison-Kipp plant could reach drinking water in 5 years,” that earned a spirited response from Madison-Kipp Corp. CEO Tony Koblinski in his open letter to the newspaper.

“Why is there a seemingly renewed effort by you and the paper to cast Madison-Kipp as a public enemy…?” — Tony Koblinski, industrialist

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.” — George Orwell, visionary author

Here is MEJO’s response to Koblinski’s letter.

 

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Midwest Environmental Justice Organization Joins National People’s Task Force on Superfund’s Future

Midwest Environmental Justice Organization Joins National People’s Task Force on Superfund’s Future

The Midwest Environmental Justice Organization (MEJO) joins more than 20 Superfund sites and 70 environmental organizations on the “People’s Task Force on the Future of Superfund,” which has outlined citizens’ recommendations on the EPA’s Superfund Program. See the People’s Task Force recommendations here.

The grassroots People’s Task Force, reflecting voices of communities dealing with pollution all over the U.S., is taking action after learning that the Trump Administration and newly-appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposed budget includes a 30% cut in funding to the Superfund. Also, last month Pruitt assembled a Task Force to provide Superfund recommendations that will decrease cleanup oversight, privilege corporate interests over public health, and weaken transparency and community involvement.

 

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Kipp PCBs continue to pollute area along Isthmus bike path, even after multiple remediations

Kipp PCBs continue to pollute area along Isthmus bike path, even after multiple remediations
 madison.com

The company expects to find a solution soon, but critics say government regulators have failed to properly investigate the troubled industrial site. More…

(A diagram of PCB levels found along Kipp’s storm drainage pipe is below. See the full PCB report by Kipp’s consultants here.)

 

High PCB levels

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Kipp Raingarden Update, Part 1: MEJO tests show that city land next to Kipp raingarden still contaminated with PCBs

Kipp Raingarden Update, Part 1:  MEJO tests show that city land next to Kipp raingarden still contaminated with PCBs

Photo: Kids walk along bikepath next to Kipp raingarden in February 2017.

Sadly, the seemingly never-ending Kipp raingarden saga continues. (See the long history of the Kipp Raingarden PCB Saga here, here, and here...and more).

In February 2017, MEJO gathered shallow soil samples next to the city bike path adjacent to the Madison-Kipp raingarden and had them tested for PCBs.  One sample had total PCB levels twelve times higher than the residential direct contact “residual contaminant levels” (RCL) appropriate for this area. Another had levels about five times higher than the residential RCL.[1][2]

MEJO’s samples were from surface soils (top 1-2 inches) right next to the bike path, where people walk and jog, children play, parents push strollers, and pets frolic. City and state officials have told us repeatedly that nobody could be exposed to PCBs along the bike path because surface soils there were not likely to be contaminated.

Also, this city-owned area was deemed “closed” by DNR in July 2016 with the understanding that PCBs remaining there over the RCLs had been excavated—or capped with clean, PCB-free soils to prevent exposures to people walking or playing there.

However, the MEJO samples with PCB over the RCLs were from areas that were never actually tested for PCBs because Madison Gas & Electric would not allow excavations near their utility poles and underground lines. (See this map of what areas were excavated and what areas were not because they were MGE “utility buffers.”) One of the samples was from a grassy area upstream of the raingarden where stormwater flows into the raingarden every time it rains—likely re-contaminating the raingarden. Another sample was downstream of the raingarden. Neither area was ever excavated or capped.

In one area inches from the bike path that was “capped” in October 2015 with a thin layer of purportedly “clean” soils, to cover remaining areas with PCBs over the RCLs, we found PCB levels over half the residential RCL. There really shouldn’t be any PCBs above detection limits in this cap soil. The July 16, 2016 DNR letter to Mayor Soglin about the DNR’s approval of final closure for the area states “[t]he soil and asphalt caps over the contaminated soil serve as a barrier to prevent direct human contact with residual soil contamination that might otherwise pose a threat to human health. Based on the current use of the property, the barrier should function as intended unless disturbed.”

The soil cap has been repeatedly disturbed since it was placed there (see here and here).  The snow fence placed around the original cap came down almost immediately and was never put back up.[3] The city driveway and parking lot caps, over highly contaminated soils, have also been repeatedly disturbed. The DNR closure agreement includes maintenance requirements to prevent disturbances of caps meant to protect people from exposures—but apparently nobody is taking these requirements seriously, despite the area’s heavy public use and location next to a community center.

The bottom line? The public area along the bike path next to Kipp is still contaminated with PCBs over the levels city and state officials agreed could remain there without being capped. The capped area is not PCB-free, and is highly disturbed. Adults, children, and pets walk, jog and play all over these areas.

Why are PCBs on this highly used city land not being fully investigated or remediated? Who is responsible? It is not clear. But it is very clear that public health is not being protected.

Where did these PCBs come from? See Part 2, coming soon…

[1] “Residual contaminant levels” are the contaminant levels that can remain in place without capping according to DNR policy. Responsible government officials typically decide whether to use lower, more protective “residential” or higher, less protective “industrial” RCLs based on the zoning of the land and how the land is used. According to DNR guidance, heavily publicly used land such as this area, next to residences and a community center, should use residential RCLs. Both MEJO samples over the residential RCLs were also over the industrial RCLs.

The city’s lease to Kipp for the raingarden, signed in Jun 2015, says: “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. The Lessee shall also determine the source of the contamination and take action to ensure that further contamination does not occur. New contamination shall be defined as shallow soil sample results above the DNR residential direct contact standard (RCL) for PCBs.” (highlighting added).

However, the Kipp consultant report says industrial standards would be used for cleanup decisions. Whose decision was this? On what basis was it made?

[2] These levels are 108 to 265 times higher than the RCL for the “soil to groundwater pathway.” The highest level of PCBs found along the bike path to date (1020 ppm), is over 108,000 times the soil to groundwater RCL. Yet, groundwater under the raingarden and bike path area has never been tested for PCBs.

[3] Our ongoing emails to city and state officials since 2015 with photos of this disturbed area were apparently ignored.

 

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Scientists find PCBs 10,000 meters below the ocean’s surface

Scientists find PCBs 10,000 meters below the ocean’s surface

Much of our work in Madison, Wisconsin in recent years has focused on preventing toxic contaminants such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) from being released into the environment and entering waterways–and eventually ending up in fish people eat.

Government agencies have told us repeatedly when we’ve raised concerns about PCBs moving into waterways from industrial sources that they will not move because they are not very water soluble and tend to stick to soils. While it is true that PCBs aren’t highly water soluble, and tend to attach to soils and other organic matter–it is well known that soils and other materials with PCBs attached to them can and do move into waterways. Also, it is well-established by scientific studies that PCBs are semi-volatile and can travel through air for long distances.

Now, further refuting the argument that PCBs do not move, a Washington Post article by Chelsea Harvey reports that scientists in the UK have discovered PCBs and related compounds PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)  “in some of the ocean’s deepest trenches, previously thought to be nearly untouched by human influence” at levels that rival some of the most polluted waterways on the planet.”

If PCBs do not move far from their source, as Madison’s government officials keep telling us, how did they get to this remote place? Clearly, PCBs can move.

Why does it matter? PCBs and PBDEs, according to the article, “may cause a variety of adverse health effects, including neurological, immune and reproductive issues and even cancer (in humans).” Further, both PCBs and and PBDEs “have the potential to remain intact for long periods of time” and tend to “bioaccumulate,” meaning they can build up in organisms over time. The article cited a study showing that certain organic pollutants, including PCBs and PBDEs “are widespread in fish throughout the world.”

Read the whole Washington Post article here

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