To learn more, see article by Steve Verburg in the Wisconsin State Journal…
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.
Photo: Fire at Foxconn factory in China.
“State officials and lawmakers are working on an incentive package to lure giant Taiwanese iPhone manufacturer Foxconn to Wisconsin,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported on July 21, 2017.
Foxconn would like to build a $7 billion plant in the U.S. to build display panels for Apple iPhones and iPads, and is considering several states for a factory. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told WSJ that lawmakers are talking about “huge, big numbers” to offer Foxconn to lure them to Wisconsin.
According to the WSJ article, Foxconn has explored several potential sites for a factory in southeastern and central Wisconsin, including in Dane County. Company officials have held a number of private meetings with politicians to negotiate options, but Fitzgerald said so far “all negotiations with the company are being conducted with the administration and have not significantly included legislators.” Governor Walker hosted Foxconn founder and chairman Terry Gou at his Maple Bluff mansion last week.
Oddly, recent local news stories about Wisconsin politicians’ proposed incentives to lure Foxconn here have not raised any questions about the company’s horrific environmental and worker safety record in China, where it has manufactured devices for Apple and other companies for years. A simple google search on the company quickly pulls up numerous articles about Foxconn factory explosions, worker accidents, deaths, and toxic environmental pollution.
In 2010, 18 Foxconn workers jumped to their deaths due to despair over working conditions in the factory. Here’s what happened after the Foxconn suicides. In 2011, an explosion killed three workers at a Foxconn plant.
Here’s a sampling of other articles about Foxconn’s appalling environmental and worker safety issues:
Some people will undoubtedly argue that Foxconn won’t get away with sickening its workers and spewing toxic pollution into waterways here in Wisconsin, as they do in China. These optimists should be reminded of Wisconsin DNR’s record of letting industrial polluters off the hook for significant regulatory violations (e.g., see here, here, and here). What will Walker’s industry-friendly DNR allow Foxconn to get away with in Wisconsin?
Politicians are excited by the promise of thousands of new jobs in the state, but hopefully everyone will not put their heads in the sand about Foxconn’s record. Before they welcome Foxconn here with huge incentives, legislators and citizens better wake up and start asking questions about the company’s worker safety and environmental record and how responsibly the company would operate here—and about how diligent Wisconsin’s DNR and state OSHA offices will be in enforcing our already inadequate worker safety and environmental regulations. Jobs that make workers sick (or kill them)—and pollute their air, drinking water, local waterways and fish—are not good jobs, even if Wisconsin politicians promote them as such.
Below, workers at a Foxconn factory in China.
Photo: Man fishing for food on Lake Monona, Madison, Wisconsin
An article in MinnPost by David Konisky of Indiana University outlines how Trump administration policies and agency appointments could affect environmental justice in the U.S., reversing years of progress under President Obama’s EPA.
Read more here.
MEJO joined dozens of organizations and activists including Erin Brokovich in co-signing a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt this week, urging him to allow rulemaking on vapor intrusion to move forward. Vapor intrusion is the migration of toxic vapors from the subsurface into the indoor air of overlying buildings.
“Subsurface intrusion is occurring at thousands of sites across the country. Hazardous volatile substances—substances known to cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious health problems—are migrating into our homes, workplaces, schools and daycare centers, recreational facilities, and places of worship,” the May 18 letter says.
Currently sites with a serious potential for vapor intrusion but no other completed pathways do not qualify for the federal “Superfund” National Priorities List (NPL). So over the past several years EPA developed, with public input, a rule that would modify the scoring system used to qualify sites for the NPL.
Implementation of the rule, promulgated in the latter days of the Obama Administration, has been deferred as part of the new administration’s anti-regulatory fervor.
Photo: Kids walk along bikepath next to Kipp raingarden in February 2017.
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.
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. 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…
 “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?
 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.
 Our ongoing emails to city and state officials since 2015 with photos of this disturbed area were apparently ignored.
The Midwest Environmental Justice Organization (MEJO) has received a grant from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, the grassroots organization founded in 1981 by Lois Gibbs after her historic and successful efforts to fight toxic pollution at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York.
“The Center for Health, Environment, and Justice is honored to be able to provide this grant to the Midwest Environment Justice Organization,” Gibbs said after the funding was awarded. “The program was very competitive, and their proposal reached the top because of the incredible work the group is doing. Grassroots groups across the country are underfunded given the level of impact they have on their communities and larger social change policies. CHEJ is privileged to be able to provide resources to all of these powerful groups, thanks to a small number of generous donors.”
MEJO works to educate community members about the effects of toxic pollution and to engage them in actions to stop it. “Unfortunately, even in a relatively privileged and progressive city such as Madison, many people from a variety of backgrounds are exposed to toxic pollution—and lower income people and minorities are more likely to be exposed than more privileged people,” MEJO President Maria Powell added.
“The CHEJ project,” Powell said, “will focus on outreach to people affected by industrial pollution to engage them in decisions on what to do about it—especially how to prevent toxic chemical exposures among the most vulnerable people. This is the core of environmental justice work.”
Since its founding in 2006, MEJO has worked to address environmental justice issues such as the race and class-based disparities in the consumption of contaminated fish, over-use of toxic pesticides on public land, and air and water pollution from urban brownfields and industries.
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…
Richard Denison, Ph.D., Environmental Defense Fund
There is an extreme anti-regulatory and anti-science bandwagon moving fast through Washington, and much of the chemical industry seems to have jumped right on board. We’re also seeing growing signs of industry pushback against even modest early actions EPA is taking to implement the Lautenberg Act, which reformed the obsolete Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and passed with strong bipartisan support only last June.
Read more here…