EPA-funded report recommends pollutant testing for Madison community center
Photo: View from inside the Goodman Center’s Ironworks Cafe, looking out to the Kipp factory loading docks.
A report from the Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO), funded by EPA to provide technical assistance to communities on vapor intrusion, strongly recommends comprehensive vapor intrusion testing at the Goodman Community Center on Madison’s near east side, to rule out possible exposures to volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) among youth, pregnant women, seniors, and others who use the center.
In the report, CPEO Executive Director Lenny Siegel recommends that, given the known groundwater plume with high levels of VOCs—particularly tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE)—beneath the industrial area where the Center is located, comprehensive vapor intrusion testing should be conducted there. TCE exposures are of particular concern for pregnant women, because birth defects (fetal heart malformations) can occur when women are exposed to TCE for even brief periods of time (from 1 day to three weeks).
In a Wisconsin State Journal article by Steve Verburg about Siegel’s report, DNR spokesperson Jim Dick discounted concerns about the Goodman Center. He explained that “the DNR never required vapor testing in the Goodman center just north of Madison-Kipp because shallow ground water flows from the plant to the south-southwest.” Yet maps in Kipp’s March 2017 semi-annual report contradict DNR’s claim, clearly showing Kipp’s VOC plume originating on the northern part of the Kipp site and flowing north under the Goodman Center. ,
Since the consultant map in the report above (see pg. 121), oddly, only depicted PCE, not other VOCs in the Kipp plume, and doesn’t show where buildings sit over the plume, we enhanced the map, to depict building locations and levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) and vinyl chloride (VC) in wells (numbers are from the semi-annual report tables, see link above).
The map shows that the VOC plume under Goodman is shallow, countering DNR’s claim to the contrary. To understand the risk of vapor intrusion to the center, however, it is important to know the VOC levels at the water table, which is also very shallow there. The dotted lines depicted on the cross-section map linked to above indicate that actual VOC levels in shallow groundwater very near or under the center are unknown, because they have not tested there. Monitoring Well 26, depicted on the map, is actually several hundred feet to the east of the center, and therefore VOC levels there are irrelevant to assessing vapor intrusion risks to the center. Yet DNR officials have used data from this well to assess vapor intrusion risks to the center–and now are no longer even assessing VOCs at that well (see below).
Goodman Center is housed in the old Kupfer Ironworks foundry, across a city bike path from Madison-Kipp Corp, which has operated in the Atwood neighborhood for 115 years. After VOCs were discovered in groundwater at Kupfer around 1986-87, and then under the factory site just to the west of Kipp (Brassworks) in 1993, extremely high levels of VOCs were discovered from 1994-1997 on the northern most tip of the Kipp factory, just across from the community center.
The northern part of the Kipp site has historically had alarmingly high levels of VOCs—including up to 6.4 million parts-per-billion PCE in soils off the northeast corner of the factory across from Goodman—and also very high levels in groundwater there. While limited soil remediation was done in a small part of this area in the 1990s, reducing soil VOC levels somewhat, significant soil and groundwater contamination remains there. A groundwater extraction well was installed on city property just south of the bike path sometime in the 1990s, but nobody at DNR or the city seems to know whether or not it ever extracted contaminated groundwater. Read more about this mysterious history here.
In dismissing vapor intrusion concerns at the community center, DNR’s Dick also explained that “ground water monitoring near the Goodman center hasn’t indicated a need for vapor testing in the community center. In fact, as some monitoring wells found less contamination in shallow ground water in recent years, the DNR has been requiring less testing for toxic vapors around the Madison-Kipp plant, and less ground water monitoring.”
This is a disingenuous statement. Again, there has in fact been no recent groundwater monitoring very near or under the center—though such monitoring is essential to assess the potential for vapor intrusion there. Further, Mr. Dick’s statements about requiring less testing of vapors and groundwater are disturbing, not reassuring; they reflect the fact that DNR allowed Kipp to phase out the shallow groundwater and vapor testing most essential to understanding whether vapor intrusion could be occurring in the center and in nearby homes.
Now that, with DNR’s approval, Kipp has greatly reduced this important ongoing monitoring—and has eliminated monitoring at some shallow wells and vapor probes altogether—nobody will know whether vapor levels could be rising near the community center.
The Goodman Center also recently purchased the Brassworks factory to renovate as an addition for center activities. As the east-west cross-section map linked above shows, groundwater with significant VOC levels is also under this building. While three groundwater and three soil vapor samples were taken at this site, Siegel argues that this testing wasn’t enough to rule out vapor intrusion in the building. Both center locations should be comprehensively tested for vapor intrusion, he says.
“The city should step up to the plate and protect its citizens since the DNR is not doing so. The Goodman Center serves youth, adults and seniors, in buildings sitting over a huge VOC plume that originates at Madison-Kipp (and runs all the way to Milwaukee Street to the north and many hundreds of feet in all other directions). Their health may be impacted, as well as center employees’ health,” said Jim Powell, Midwest Environmental Justice Organization (MEJO) board member.
“Since the City of Madison owns the bike path between Goodman and Kipp, and also leases the land to Kipp for its Fair Oaks Avenue factory and the raingarden that receives the factory’s stormwater pollution, it should ask Goodman to conduct these tests. The City’s own properties may be negatively impacting people’s health.”
Siegel met with citizens dealing with vapor intrusion situations
In June, Siegel also met with citizens from three Madison neighborhoods dealing with known or potential vapor intrusion problems, but just issued his USEPA-funded report this month. Prior to issuing his report, Siegel reviewed data related to these sites, provided to him by MEJO, which has gathered thousands of pages of documents on the sites from DNR and other agencies.
Several people who met with Mr. Siegel live near Madison-Kipp and have vapor mitigation systems on their homes intended to prevent VOC vapors from entering them. Madison-Kipp agreed to install these systems and maintain them for five years as part of a class action lawsuit settled in 2013.
Residents are concerned about whether these systems are effectively protecting them from vapor intrusion, and who will maintain the systems over the long term. They have good reason for concern. Mr. Siegel’s report highlights that appropriate testing to assure that these systems are sufficiently reducing chemical vapors into homes was not done after the home mitigation systems were installed. Also, there is no plan in place to maintain and monitor these systems after Kipp’s responsibility to maintain them ends in 2018.
“I would like to know that my system is working properly and toxic vapors are no longer seeping into my home,” said Sharon Helmus, who is 78 and lives just feet from Madison-Kipp’s aluminum melting stacks. “Who will monitor my system after 2018? I certainly don’t know how to do it and can’t afford to pay someone else to do it.”
One person living next to Kipp who was part of the lawsuit has reported that her system has not been monitored at all by Kipp or anyone else since it was installed in 2012. This appears to violate the terms of the civil lawsuit settlement–but who is going to investigate? Neither the city, county or state will; and one of the lawsuit attorneys now works for industry and is under no obligations to his former clients.
Below, home of Sharon Helmus (on the right) just feet from the Kipp factory’s aluminum melting stacks
Siegel met with alders to discuss what the city could do
MEJO’s Jim Powell agrees with recommendations in Siegel’s report. “The DNR, or state and local health departments, should ensure that post-mitigation testing is done to make sure the systems are working properly, and that there is a plan for maintenance of the systems over the long-term,” he said.
Siegel also met in June with some Madison alders to discuss ways that Mountain View, California, where he is vice mayor, addresses vapor intrusion, and steps Madison could take based on his community’s model, which is commended by EPA.
“The city should develop a method of reviewing potentially dangerous vapors from intruding into our buildings, along the lines of Mountain View’s. Vapor intrusion can expose us to long-term risks of chronic disease,” said Alder David Ahrens, who met with Siegel in June.
Alder Samba Baldeh added, “The City should map all VOC plumes in the city, especially on the eastside/Isthmus where contamination seems widespread, and develop strategies to address potential vapor intrusion problems comprehensively, including broad areas over plumes, not just one site at a time.”
Other possible aspects of broad city environmental policy could include requiring employers to notify building users that it is an environmental response site, where known contaminants are being mitigated and provide website references for more information.
“The city should develop an environmental policy to protect public health and the environment,” said Alder Rebecca Kemble. “At every decision-making level, alders and committee members should have as much information as possible in front of them, including all investigative reports about known and suspected contaminants on any given site in the city.”
“Unfortunately, at many sites, groundwater VOC testing done by consultants hired by property owners and/or developers is not comprehensive enough to adequately assess whether or not there could be a potential vapor intrusion problem in buildings constructed there, or existing buildings,” said Powell. “It is in the interests of the property owners and developers not to find a groundwater VOC problem and potential for vapor intrusion, since these are expensive problems to deal with.
“While the state DNR is responsible for enforcing federal and state environmental regulations, it is in many cases failing to do so,” said Powell. “The City of Madison also has authority to protect people’s health and the environment. The City owns a lot of land that is used for industry and is available for redevelopment. It can set high standards for environmental cleanup and public health protection on those sites. Additionally, through its authority as the stormwater management utility, it can monitor and regulate stormwater discharges of toxic chemicals into local waterways by industry and other polluters. Unfortunately, it rarely does so.”
Siegel feels that Madison could develop its own approach to reviewing and addressing vapor intrusion at sites in the city in order to protect its citizens in cases when the DNR is not doing so.
 Historically, investigative reports for Kipp have said that the shallow and intermediate groundwater under Kipp is going south, and the deeper groundwater is going north. However, DNR officials have stated that the shallow groundwater “sloshes around” in all directions at various times, depending on a number of factors including rainfall, lake levels, pumping of nearby Water Utility wells, and other factors.
 Also, if the shallow and intermediate groundwater is flowing south/southwest, why haven’t groundwater and vapors to the south of Kipp been tested? There are many homes and businesses to the south and southwest of the factory. In the 1990s, the DNR actually planned to install wells on properties to the south of Kipp, but they were never installed. MEJO’s repeated questions about this to DNR over the years have been ignored. Is DNR afraid of what they might find?
 As the CPEO report notes, in 2001 a few groundwater samples near the Goodman building found some VOCs, including 14 ppb PCE in a sample right next to where the Goodman’s Ironworks Café is now. The samples were likely fairly shallow, but reports did not clarify depths.