Public Participation

Community dinner kicks off new EPA-funded environmental justice project

Community dinner kicks off new EPA-funded environmental justice project

MEJO and the East Madison Community Center held a community fish dinner on September 30 to close out the Center’s Hunger Action Month activities and kickoff MEJO’s new USEPA-funded Starkweather Creek environmental justice project.  See photos of the event below.

Two hundred fish meals were served at the Saturday afternoon event, held at EMCC in northeast Madison. The theme was the shared tradition of fishing and eating fish, a nutritious, whole food that people around the world enjoy. Types of fish served included fried catfish, pan-fried bluegill (caught that day in Lake Monona!), Hmong tilapia salad, batter-fried tilapia, Lake Superior whitefish and wild rice, and Nigerian baked fish.

Other event supporters (who provided fish, vegetables and equipment) included Willy Street Co-op North, Native Food Network/Mobile Farmers Market, East Madison Monona Rotary, Troy Farm, Kurt Welke and local community gardens.

The event also served as a kickoff for MEJO’s new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant for its Starkweather Creek environmental justice project to engage residents and subsistence anglers on Madison’s northeast side in learning about stormwater pollution and to build their capacities to participate in community decisions about stormwater pollution prevention. Project partners include East Madison Community Center, Northside Planning Council and the UW-Madison Department of Geography (GIS Capstone program).

People might be surprised to learn that the Starkweather Creek drainage basin includes the Sherman Village, Whitetail Ridge, Berkley Oaks and Sherman (partial) neighborhoods, as well as the airport, MATC, Truax neighborhood, East Towne and a large part of the east and northeast sides. The full drainage basin can be seen here.

More information about the project coming soon.

Photos of the Community Fish Dinner are below.

People eating fish together

Dan Cornelius of the Native Food Network and Mobile Farmers Market discusses native foods that he grows in Madison

(L-R): Maria, Jim, Eric, Angelina and Ald. David Ahrens prepare food for the community fish dinner


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City’s Priorities Out of Order; Citizens Punished for Doing the Right Thing (a new series)

City’s Priorities Out of Order; Citizens Punished for Doing the Right Thing (a new series)

Above: The city has prioritized replacing a paved segment of terrace with grass, over repairing a pothole where children slip on ice (see story below).

MEJO introduction to series:

City of Madison ordinances, or lack thereof, reflect the city’s priorities in regards to public and environmental health and safety. The city’s over-enforcement of some ordinances—while others are rampantly violated with no consequences—also says a lot about city priorities.

In our environmental justice work in Madison, we have learned that the city—in spite of years of citizen pressure to do so—will not improve its weak noise ordinance, largely due to business and industry resistance. The existing noise ordinance is regularly violated, with no consequences to violators; some are actually rewarded. An industry can spill high levels of PCBs along city bike paths, and the city has no obligation to notify path users of their presence. There’s no ordinance on that. So the city, or someone else, could spill toxic chemicals on the sidewalk in front of your house and the city has no legal obligation to notify you, your neighbors, or the public who use it. City pesticide and stormwater laws are rampantly violated, and the city looks the other way—a long story in itself. The list goes on…

Meanwhile, the city issues citations to some citizens for violating the city’s absurd and obsolete residential yard laws—while ignoring thousands of others who violate it. Below, we share another story by Janette Rosenbaum about over-enforcement of city ordinances and punishment of a resident who was just trying to do the right thing.


Resident Makes Repairs to Property, Asks City to Do Likewise – Ends Up Prosecuted

By Janette Rosenbaum

Bennett Ramage didn’t expect to be charged with violations of city ordinances for trying to improve his property.

Ramage bought a rundown home on Ravenswood Road, on Madison’s southwest side, about two and a half years ago. In short order, he set about making much-needed repairs.

A year into this to-do list, he contacted the city to report a low spot along the curb in front of his house. He had noticed that the dip in the pavement tended to fill with water, and that this was especially problematic in the winter, when kids walking to and from school slid on the ice while trying to cross the street

The city didn’t respond to Ramage’s request for repairs. Eventually, frustrated by the lack of action, Ramage asked his alder, Matt Phair, for help.

In mid-September of this year, city inspector Bill McGuin finally came to look at the problem. Ramage explained his concerns, but McGuin didn’t feel the icy patch was a hazard, and said the city would not fix it.

Ramage can hire a contractor himself to repair the pavement, McGuin said, and the city would pay some of the costs of the work. But, any contractor chosen by Ramage would need to be approved by the city before work could be done, and after the pavement is fixed, if an inspection finds that the work is not up to the city’s standards, Ramage would be responsible for re-fixing it.

Ramage was disappointed by the outcome of this meeting, but he was astonished when, a week later, he received a letter from McGuin citing him for violations of city building code. The letter listed several issues.

First, McGuin had noted that a fence Ramage had recently installed along his backyard was exceeding height limits. Ramage has fixed the problem, and is awaiting re-inspection.

Second, the letter stated that Ramage’s driveway does not meet current requirements. The driveway, which extends beyond the edge of the house, has terrace and curb in front of this extra portion, instead of a widened apron. The section of terrace in front of the driveway is paved instead of grassed (see photo below).

The city has prioritized replacing a paved segment of terrace with grass, over repairing a pothole where children slip on ice.

Ramage says all of that is left over from the previous homeowner, who did not disclose the violation when they sold the property, probably because they didn’t know their driveway was illegal. Ramage is working on breaking up the pavement in the terrace, and plans to seed the area with grass.

The issue of the driveway itself is more complicated. The extra width is legal if it leads to an 8×18 parking spot alongside the house, according to city ordinances. Adding the parking spot would require Ramage to move his fence, and install additional gravel or pavement.

Ramage also could tear up the nonconforming asphalt, but this would leave him with insufficient parking. He could park in the street, but said it would look bad and create a hazard, while the widened driveway doesn’t seem to be hurting anybody.

In investigating the issue, Ramage found that his driveway is legal if it was widened prior to 1993, when the current ordinance went into effect. The city agrees with this, but says it’s Ramage’s responsibility to prove the age of the driveway.

Ramage was able to contact the previous owner of the house, who says the driveway was widened in 1992. No photos have turned up, though, and the city may not accept a statement unsupported by documentary evidence.

The previous owner also told Ramage that the low spot in the street was originally caused by an overloaded city truck riding too close to the curb.

Ramage plans to pursue the grandfathering exemption for the driveway. If that fails, he says he’ll install the extra parking spot.

The amount of work Ramage has put into the property is obvious. The kitchen looks like new, and even the garage appears to have been redone. Ramage says neighbors have been happy to see the house getting needed repairs. No one had complained about the violations McGuin cited, nor has the city claimed that any of the violations were creating a public hazard.

Ramage doesn’t mind adding the city’s requests to his to-do list, but can’t believe the citations were issued in the first place, apparently as punishment for asking the city to fix a problem in the public street.

Addendum 1, November 19 2016: Following a re-inspection, the city agreed that Ramage’s fence and terrace are in compliance. However, the city did not accept a signed, notarized affidavit from the previous homeowner, stating that the driveway was at its current width since 1992, as evidence that the driveway qualifies for the grandfathering exemption. The city continues to demand that Ramage either narrow the driveway or add the legal parking spot, and that he submit a highly-detailed plan, which must be approved by the city before any work can begin. Ramage is now consulting with a real estate attorney to explore other options.

Addendum 2, December 30, 2016. Despite the aid of a real estate attorney, Ramage was unable to persuade the city to accept the notarized affidavit or otherwise resolve the issue with the driveway. Instead, he will be forced to spend thousands of dollars tearing up legal pavement that no one ever complained about.
“The city was completely unreasonable and unwilling to do anything for me,” said Ramage. “The lesson I learned here was to NEVER report anything to the city.”


Ramage is not the only Madison resident with a story like this. While citations are issued much too rarely to constitute consistent enforcement of the ordinances, they are issued often enough to look like a pattern of targeting specific residents – often those who, like Ramage, called attention to themselves by making a request of local officials. Calling out this behavior on the part of the city can lead to further harassment. One property owner who was targeted declined to talk to me, fearing retaliation by city inspectors.

Have a similar story to share? Contact



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Madison-Kipp removes chlorine, but environmental worries linger

Madison-Kipp removes chlorine, but environmental worries linger

By Steve Verburg, Wisconsin State Journal. (Photo: Inside Madison-Kipp)

Madison-Kipp Corp. has removed one worrisome toxin from the manufacturing plant it operates amid scores of homes along Atwood Avenue, but neighbors say they want more answers about other pollutants.

The machine parts maker sent an email to neighborhood residents last week to say it has stopped using chlorine to treat aluminum, eliminating the danger of a spill of the potentially deadly substance and ending smokestack emissions of certain dangerous breakdown chemicals including dioxin.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” company environmental and safety director Alina Satkoski said Wednesday. “We know this has been a concern of our neighbors.”

Madison-Kipp continues to operate under state permits for emissions of other smokestack pollutants, and cleanups of toxins in soil aren’t complete, although company officials say they are getting closer.

Chlorine was used to remove magnesium from 35 million pounds of aluminum the company buys each year and casts into parts for the automotive and other industries.

Madison-Kipp is paying a higher price to buy aluminum with less magnesium content in order to be a better neighbor, and it will continue the practice as long as a steady supply of the material is available, said company president and CEO Tony Koblinski.

“It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars annually,” Koblinski said. “As long as there is a steady stream we don’t give up too much.”

The chlorine announcement came as Madison-Kipp continued to work with state and federal regulators on investigations and cleanups of chemical toxins released into the ground during the more than 100 years the company’s Waubesa Street plant has operated.

Madison-Kipp is also the target of a 2012 state Department of Justice lawsuit over PCBs, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says probably cause cancer in humans and a variety of other serious health effects in animals. PCBs have been found in very high concentrations as deep as 25 to 30 feet below the company’s plant on Waubesa Street, one of three it operates in Dane County.

The company paid $7.2 million to settle lawsuits brought by neighbors after PCE, a likely human carcinogen that is associated with other serious illnesses, and other contaminants spread from the plant and sent vapor into their soil and homes.

But Koblinski has predicted a settlement with DOJ this year, and he said great progress is being made on several fronts.

The company has asked the state Department of Natural Resources for permission to end testing and removal of soil tainted with PCE in the yards of homes along Waubesa Street and soil contaminated with PCBs under the plant parking lot, along the adjacent bike path and in a nearby public rain garden, he said.

The company complied with a 2015 EPA consent order that threatened a $37,500-per-day fine if it didn’t fix processes that led to inaccurate reports of air emissions for nearly five years, Satkoski said. And the company has taken steps to avoid a repeat of a 2014 incident when moisture in a machine caused a 20-pound piece of molten aluminum to crash through the plant roof and land in a neighbor’s yard, Satkoski said.

Koblinski said he is willing to answer any neighborhood questions. But residents and local officials said they have trouble obtaining information from the DNR.

In particular, there are concerns about efforts to halt the underground PCE plume by pumping it from the ground, treating it and depositing 65,000 gallons a day into Starkweather Creek, a stream that is already listed as impaired by pollutants, said one neighborhood leader, Lance Green.

Confidence in regulators was shaken several years ago by revelations that PCE was in people’s homes and more recently when the Madison Water Utility revealed problems in Madison-Kipp studies indicating the PCE plume had stopped well short of a nearby drinking water source, said Green, who serves on the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association board and the group’s committee on Madison-Kipp as well as the Friends of Starkweather Creek board.

Madison City Council member Marsha Rummel and state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, tried to arrange a public meeting this week with DNR regulators, public health officials and others to answer residents’ questions about the activities.

However, Taylor and Green said DNR staff members told them they were wary because of verbal sparring at such a meeting in 2012.

Taylor said attorneys representing neighbors in the PCE lawsuit, which was still pending at the time, asked questions and that heightened tensions.

Taylor said she offered to screen questions and provide them to the DNR in advance, and Rummel arranged for a professional facilitator to run the meeting.

But the DNR declined, and said it would discuss dates for an “open house” meeting in which residents could talk with officials at individual tables set up for different topics, Taylor said. But that prevents the most knowledgeable neighbors from obtaining answers that everyone can hear, Taylor said.

“They don’t want to face the community in a group,” Taylor said. “I think it’s ridiculous.”

DNR spokesman Jim Dick said the meeting was postponed by its organizers and the agency is waiting to hear further details about how and when it may take place.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NR 140 PAL Limit DNR GETs

permit limit

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

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

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

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

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

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

All numbers are in µg/L

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

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

No flow limits in DNR permit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last but not least…

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


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

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

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

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

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

To be continued in Part II…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kipp Sound blocking fence - where it was supposed to go




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This is what “Conservation” looks like in Dane County Parks…

This is what “Conservation” looks like in Dane County Parks…

Seventeen 80-year-old trees were cut down in Lake View Hill Conservancy County Park in ten hours of one day, Sept 3, 2015….VIDEO 1 [0:33]…and ground up on the spot…. VIDEO 2 [1:43]

WHY? According to Dane County Parks Director Darren Marsh, the trees needed to be “removed” primarily to “improve the viewshed” for people or because they had “poor form”—like this perfectly healthy giant tree, which you see killed in the first video.

Here’s what the new improved “viewshed” looks like: VIDEO 3 [1:38] Was it worth it?

Last year, beginning on Earth Day, and in months afterwards, many more trees were cut to improve the views—see our previous story. We estimate that in 2014 and 2015, well over 30 trees were cut down in one area of Lake View Hill Park (in addition to the numerous trees–20+?– killed to make way for the new water tower).

How can people wantonly destroy such beautiful trees for no good reason?

Why is such pointless killing of trees approved as part of “conservation” by Dane County Parks?

This killing of trees was funded by public money–in other words, your money. The trees were on public land; it belongs to all of us. Dane County citizens who questioned this pointless destruction of 80 year old trees were dismissed, ridiculed, or just ignored by county officials and parks staff.

Please let your county supervisors, Dane County Parks Commissioners, and Executive Joe Parisi know how you feel about this:

County Executive–


Park Commissioners–



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From the Archives: “The Mean Machine” on Lake Monona, Madison, Wis., 2006

From the Archives: “The Mean Machine” on Lake Monona, Madison, Wis., 2006


In September 2006, MEJO held a fish advisory sign making party and fish fry at Brittingham Park on Monona Bay in Madison. Wis., to raise awareness of shoreline anglers about toxins in fish in the lakes.

One participant was Robert Burton McGee, who shared a little of his story and recited a poem he had written called “The Mean Machine.”

Monona Bay Fish Advisory Sign & Fish Fry (September 2006) Full Photo Gallery

Fish Advisory Posts and Info

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Community-Based Environmental Justice Research

Community-Based Environmental Justice Research

In collaboration with community members, MEJO leaders are immersed in field work, interviews, and research about environmental justice issues in our community, and are currently not posting new articles on this site. Please let us know if you are interested in learning more about our community-based research or would like to be involved–email

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How Far North is the Kipp Plume? Kipp Doesn’t Want The Public to Know…

How Far North is the Kipp Plume? Kipp Doesn’t Want The Public to Know…

At a March 19, 2014 community presentation, Madison-Kipp Corporation’s CEO Tony Koblinski presented Kipp pollution maps and invited citizens to view them after his talk, noting that “when you get a chance to look at the data, you’ll be able to see all the values on each of those.” But when MEJO President began to photograph maps after the presentation, Mr. Koblinski rushed over to intervene, hurriedly turning them over to the white side. “These aren’t quite ready for prime time!” he said, obviously highly agitated. “They’ll be in the public record, in the Annual Report, in two or three weeks.”

It was very awkward behavior for a corporate CEO in a public venue—and especially ironic given he stated in the opening of his talk that Kipp wants to “reestablish Kipp’s reputation and standing” and “communicate openly with our neighbors” in an “honest and open dialogue.” (Mr. Koblinski’s presentation was likely written and carefully vetted by Kipp’s law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich.)

Why would Kipp present maps at a public meeting, invite people to view them, but not allow them to take photographs?

Before Mr. Koblinski turned the maps around, I had already snapped a photo of a north-south groundwater cross-section map dated October 2013, with the reluctant permission of the Arcadis consultants standing there. This map was also presented in Mr. Koblinski’s talk. Again, why was a map based on five-month old data not yet “ready for prime time”—and if it wasn’t ready, why was it presented at all? We don’t know, but have some speculations. Read on…

Respecting Mr. Koblinski’s request, I did not share the photos I took in March, but waited for the release of the Annual Report  by the DNR on April 8, 2014. The report includes no data and no maps, and is devoid of specific information other than a summary of Arcadis activities in 2013. Though a separate electronic report  released on April 8 includes groundwater data, none of the cross-section or other isoconcentration groundwater maps were posted on the DNR website.

I emailed DNR about the maps and was told that they were too big for Arcadis to send via email,[1] but hard copies of the maps were at Hawthorne library. DNR offered to ask Arcadis for a CD with the maps and make it available to me. I asked DNR to instead get the maps electronically from Arcadis and post them on the website so that any interested citizens can more easily access them.[2] DNR sent me a CD but has not posted the maps on their website for others to access (as of May 13).

In the meantime, I went to Hawthorne library and found the maps in bound reports.[3] The October north-south cross-section plume map there has the same title and date as the one I photographed at the March 19 meeting. Though all the numbers on the map are blurry and nearly impossible to make out, those listed for the northernmost well (Well 27 off Milwaukee Street) appear to be the same as on the map I photographed after the March public meeting: 1.6 ug/L and 11 ug/L.

A Tale of Two Maps

Strangely, however, the shapes of the plumes on the two maps are slightly different—especially towards Well 27. The map  presented at the March public meeting (in Part 2 of the presentation here) depicts the northern tip of the plume just barely reaching Well 27. The map  included in the Annual Report at Hawthorne (also shown with captions above) while having the same title and date, and showing the same numbers (blurrily), clearly shows that the plume goes much further than Well 27 (off the map to the north) and is more substantial vertically at that well.

So presumably, the map actually included in the Annual Report, with the more significant vertical plume depicted at Well 27, was the one Kipp felt was “ready for prime time” while the earlier one wasn’t. But in fact, both maps are misleading because neither includes the actual vertical profiling contaminant levels from Well 27 in November 2013—levels that were much higher than the numbers written on the maps. These tests found PCE levels of 40 and 25 ug/L, and TCE levels of 22 and 16 ug/L at 135-145 feet and 150-160 feet (respectively), as well as significant levels of the breakdown product cis-1,2, dichloroethylene (DCE). Arcadis also identified a significant fracture at 140 feet deep in November—which would be a key preferential pathway for the contaminants to travel underground to the north.

Data Not Shared with Public or City of Madison

We know that DNR and Kipp knew about this vertical profiling data in mid-December 2013. Apparently, neither shared this important information with the City of Madison, and Mr. Koblinski didn’t share it with the public at the March 2014 meeting. In fact, he presented groundwater maps that omitted this data and depicted a plume that pretty much tapered off before reaching Well 27 (with just the tip of the plume at that well). Other isoconcentration maps he presented, which he didn’t allow us to photograph, also made it appear as if no contamination over the enforcement standard of 5 ug/L had ever been found at Well 27. Further, he didn’t mention the underground fractures Arcadis had located. Research shows that such fractures can act as “contaminant superhighways,” through which contaminants can travel quickly—and far away—from contaminant sources.

Instead, Mr. Koblinski said “most of the contamination is under the building footprint,” referring to the Kipp building. He noted that the contamination doesn’t go deeper than 170 feet, which is incorrect (see Arcadis tables linked to above). He declared that the Kipp plume “tends to flatten out…it gets weaker and weaker, it’s diluted, it diffuses into the bedrock, and Mother Nature, though wounded, begins to take care of it. It biodegrades, and over time, it cleans up.”

Troublingly, to support these absurd and scientifically incorrect statements, Kipp’s CEO showed the public misleading maps that omitted critical data. Moreover, he didn’t show some important maps at all—such as the map showing how far the plume may have traveled to the east and west of Kipp. More discussion about this below…

Deep Contamination Going North, or South…or Whatever Direction Kipp Wants it To Go?

Mr. Koblinski stated in his talk that “movement of groundwater is generally downward and predominantly to the south”—which contradicts data and maps above showing significant levels of contaminants in deep groundwater 1400 feet north of Kipp (and beyond). Kipp consultant reports have stated since the 1990s that the deep groundwater is moving north. Was Mr. Koblinski purposely trying to mislead the public, or was that a misstatement? Consultant reports also say repeatedly that shallow and intermediate-level groundwater around Kipp is going south/southeast/southwest. Perhaps Mr. Koblinski was confusing deep and shallow groundwater? Either way, this begs the question we have asked again and again over the last few years: If the shallow and mid-level groundwater is going south, why hasn’t there been any groundwater testing directly to the south and southwest of Kipp, and only limited testing to the southeast (Well 25)?

DNR Doesn’t Want to Know How Much Further North the Plume Has Gone Either? What About East & West?

According to the Annual Report, Kipp doesn’t plan to install any more groundwater monitoring wells—not even to the north of Well 27 at Oak St/Milwaukee Street, where the contaminant levels are well above enforcement standards and the tip of the plume has clearly not been defined. DNR doesn’t plan to ask Kipp to install another monitoring well further north of Well 27.

The extent of the Kipp plume to the east and west of the plant, not discussed at all at the March 19 meeting, has also not been defined. Contaminant levels found in October 2013 at Monitoring Wells 14 and 16 (approximately 450 feet west and east of Kipp, respectively) are orders of magnitude above the enforcement standards (the depictions of the east-west extents of the plume in this map are Kipp consultants’ estimations—there is no actual monitoring data to back this up as far as we know). The extent of the plume to the west is of particular concern, since Well 14, to the west of Kipp, has levels of up to 970 ug/L PCE at 135-145 feet and 640 ug/L at 170-178 feet. Levels of TCE and DCE are also substantial at these depths.

So…how far does the plume go to the north? To the south, east, and west? If no more wells will be installed, we’ll never know how wide and deep the plume is—until contaminants show up in one or more of our drinking water wells. Perhaps they already have? As noted above, plumes can travel several miles from the source in preferential pathways such as underground fractures. Several Water Utility wells on north/east sides of Madison within five miles from Kipp (Well 11, Well 15, Well 8, Well 9) already have had some PCE, TCE, and/or DCE contamination for some time. Could any of this contamination have come from Kipp? It’s possible, given that the plume has been traveling deep underground through fractures and other pathways since the late 1940s, and several drinking water wells in a few mile radius around Kipp have been pulling the contaminant plume around in various directions–depending on which wells were used (or not), when, and how much they were pumping (see later story).

Some of our analysis is preliminary, since we don’t have access to all of the information. Regardless, one thing seems pretty clear based on our experiences and the information we have been able to piece together: Kipp doesn’t want people to know how far north the plume has reached, and at what levels.

Lacking maps, to help visualize how wide and deep the plume might be in groundwater under the neighborhood, we put together a very rough map based only on the most recent data from the furthest offsite wells (October 2013 for Wells 14, 15 16, 25, and November-December 2013 for Well 27), summarized below—so people could see the extent of the plume at this point.[4]


[1] Arcadis has provided countless maps and diagrams to DNR in electronic form in the past couple years to post online. Why are they unable to do so for these figures?

[2] Many people cannot go to Hawthorne Library and/or cannot afford to copy these maps.

[3] The maps cannot be easily photocopied (they are large and an awkward size in bound reports). Photographs I took are not clear because the maps are creased from folding.

[4] To keep it simple, data from all depths were combined for each contaminant.


Summary below of most recent data from:


FAR NORTH (Well 27, off Milwaukee St.)(November 2013 data is vertical profiling data)

11/24—135-145 feet: PCE 40ug/L, TCE 22ug/L, cis-1,2-DCE 13 ug/L

11/25—150-160 feet: PCE 25ug/L, TCE 16ug/L, cis-1,2-DCE8 ug/L

11/25—160-170 feet: PCE 3 ug/L, TCE 1 ug/L, cis-1,2-DCE .47 ug/L

12/26—130-140 feet: PCE 1.8ug/L, TCE 1.3ug/L, cis-1,2-DCE .85 ug/L

12/26—170-180 feet: PCE 11ug/L, TCE 7.2ug/L, cis-1,2-DCE4 ug/L


NORTH (Wells 9/15 Wirth Park)***

10/4/13–64-69 feet: 34 ug/L, TCE 7.4, cis-1,2 DCE 18 (Well 9, all the rest from Well 15)

10/8/13—PCE, 88-92 feet: 220 ug/L, TCE, 19 ug/L, cis-1, 3 DCE 20 ug/L

10/8/13—PCE, 100-105 feet: PCE 690ug/L, TCE 72ug/L, cis-1, 2 DCE 76 ug/L

10/8/13—PCE, 120-125 feet: PCE 1800ug/L, TCE 190ug/L, cis-1, 2 DCE 220 ug/L

10/8/13—PCE, 142-146 feet: PCE 840ug/L, TCE 130ug/L, cis-1, 2 DCE 140 ug/L, vinyl chloride .76 ug/L

10/8/13—PCE, 177-187 feet: PCE 100ug/L, TCE 12ug/L, cis-1, 2 DCE 16ug/L, vinyl chloride .34 ug/L

***Well 9 was the original, shallower well. Well 15 was installed later, and is a deeper well. They are right next to each other at the same location.


EAST (Well 16, corner of Dixon and Fairview)

10/9/13—PCE, 80-84 feet—.76ug/L, rest below detection limits

10/9/13—PCE, 106-116 feet—94ug/L, TCE 13ug/L, cis-1, 2 DCE 10 ug/L

10/9/13—PCE, 140-144 feet—37ug/L, TCE 6.1ug/L

10/9/13—PCE, 175-179 feet—3.7ug/L, TCE .98ug/L


WEST (Well 14, just off Corry St.)

10/8/13—70-75 feet, all below detection limits

10/8/14—100-105 feet, 1.7 ug/L PCE

10/8/13—PCE, 135-145 feet—970ug/L, TCE 53ug/L, cis-1, 2 DCE 27 ug/L, vinyl chloride, .53 ug/L

10/8/13—PCE, 170-178 feet—640ug/L, TCE 37ug/L, cis-1, 2 DCE 22 ug/L


SOUTHEAST (Well 25, southeast of Lowell School, sentinel well for Well 8)***

10/9/13—PCE, 120-130 feet—3.1ug/L, MC 5.3ug/L

10/4/13– PCE, 160-170 feet—all under detection limits

***This data is also too limited in time and depths to say yet what is happening at this well. There have only been three sets of tests at two depths on this well. The last set of tests, in October 2013 (shown above) showed the highest levels of PCE and methylene chloride of the three tests. Methylene chloride levels were well over the Preventive Action Limit and slightly over the Enforcement Standard. PCE was not far under the Enforcement Standard. Far more tests at different depths need to be done on this well before drawing conclusion about how far and deep the plume is at the sentinel well.


Well 26S, (Goodman Parking Lot)***

8/23/13—PCE, 6.8-16.8 feet: PCE 1.4 ug/L, rest below detection limits

10/9/13—all below detection limits

***These results (from only two dates at only one narrow range of depths) aren’t remotely adequate to assess what is beneath the Goodman property in groundwater, nor does it tell us anything about potential vapor intrusion problems inside the Goodman Center, which is the most important issue to assess as far as risks to people there. To assess risks to people there, vapor tests need to be done in the subslab of the center and in indoor air. Yet Mr Koblinski said during his March 19 2013 presentation that Well 26S results confirm that there are no vapor problems on the Goodman property. To draw this conclusion from this limited data is scientifically inadequate and, moreover, highly unethical from a public health standpoint given that many at-risk children and elderly spend a lot of time at this center.


Preventive Action Limit (PAL):

Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)–.5 ug/L

Trichloroethylene (TCE)–.5 ug/L

Cis- 1, 2-dichloroethylene (DCE)—7ug/L

Vinyl chloride (VC)–.02 ug/L

Methylene chloride (MC)–.5 ug/L


Enforcement Standard (ES):

Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)–5 ug/L

Trichloroethylene (TCE)–5 ug/L

Cis- 1, 2-dichloroethylene (DCE)—70 ug/L

Vinyl chloride (VC)–.2 ug/L

Methylene chloride (MC)—5 ug/L



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Kipp’s Former Raingarden–Now SludgeGarden–Even More Toxic Than We Knew…

Kipp’s Former Raingarden–Now SludgeGarden–Even More Toxic Than We Knew…

Yesterday we obtained a Figure from the City of Madison with more PCB data from soils excavated from the Kipp raingarden, on City of Madison property just north of Kipp, next to the public bike path and across from the Goodman Community Center. The PCB levels found around the edges of the former garden, now a toxic pit , are even higher than those reported in our previous post.

We don’t know exactly when these soils were excavated and tested, but the figure we have was dated April 22, 2014, Earth Day. The highest level— 85 ppm PCBs, orders of magnitude above both the residential direct contact RCL of .22 ppm and the industrial RCL of .74 ppm—were found on the north side of the raingarden, near the bike path, next to the raingarden sign.

These highly PCB contaminated soils are still there; in fact, we didn’t know it, but we were standing pretty much on the 85 ppm PCBs when we took many of our photos. The areas with the highest levels will be excavated, but MGE requires a 10-foot buffer for excavation around telephone poles, and other underground utilities also have to be avoided.

All around this excavation pit, children are playing and people are walking/biking. Goodman teen workers are putting food scraps in the compost piles just feet away. Though there is a flimsy short plastic fence around the garden, there are no signs anywhere to let people know that the area is a toxic soil excavation, with high levels of PCBs still remaining.

Questions this raises:

Why are there no signs anywhere around the excavation pit/pond to let people know what is being done and to alert them to the high PCB levels there?

How deep were these PCBs found? Why weren’t other contaminants besides PCBs (PCE, TCE, vinyl chloride, metals, dioxins) also tested in the 2nd round?

How long have the City, Public Health Madison Dane County, the Department of Health Services, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Kipp, and other government officials had this excavation PCB data? Did they plan to share it with the public? Why hadn’t they as of May 2 2014? Would anyone even know about the PCB contamination that remains there if we didn’t happen to ride our bikes past the excavation and if we hadn’t started asking questions?

Did the government entities listed above share this data and other details about the excavation with people in the nearby neighborhood, neighborhood association (SASYNA), Goodman Community Center, daycares, etc? Did they engage people in the neighborhood in discussions about how/when the excavation would occur, keep them apprised of the test results, and talk to them about the best ways to communicate with nearby residents and assure that children and pets do not play in and around the excavation area?

If the areas around the telephone poles and other utilities will not be excavated, will the PCBs in those soils remain in place indefinitely? These PCB hotspots are in highly-used public areas. Will there be signs alerting people about the PCB contamination there?

What is the long-term plan for this area? If the raingarden is rebuilt (as is planned, after more excavation) and continues to gather and concentrate PCBs and other contaminants—will the raingarden have to be excavated every few years to remove the high levels of contaminants? Is this really the best plan? What does the neighborhood want?

Is it really a good idea for Goodman to build a children’s SPLASH PAD just across the bikepath from this garden, very near where Kipp stored barrels of waste in the past on what is now Goodman property?  

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