More PCBs on city bike path to be excavated October 6-9; City of Madison says no warning signs needed
In June 2015, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) of up to 680 ppm—orders of magnitude above the residential (0.2 ppm) and industrial (0.7 ppm) direct contact standards—were found in soils next to the highly used Capital City bike path and just across from the Goodman Community Center’s new splash pad. The source of the PCBs, which likely have been in soils along the bike path for decades, is Madison Kipp Corporation. Test results are depicted on this map; the full report is here.
These high PCB levels were found much closer to the city bike path and adjacent jogging/walking path than those found in previous sampling in the city raingarden that began in spring 2014 (which uncovered PCB levels up to 550 and 1020 ppm–see here and here) Soils along the bike path also contain other toxic contaminants, including heavy metals, PCE (tetrachloroethylene), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and more.
A large volume of scientific studies shows that long term PCB exposures are associated with neurological, endocrine, immune system, and a variety other health problems. In February 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified PCBs as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1)[IARC, 2013]. More information about the health effects of PCBs is here and here. Also, PCBs are usually contaminated with dioxins and furans, which are even more toxic than PCBs.
The June PCB findings were not shared with the public and, as of Sept. 22, 2015, were not posted on the DNR website. No signs have ever been posted along the bike path about this significant contamination.
Neighborhood residents, frustrated by the refusal of city and state officials to post warning signs along the bike path, posted their own signs in mid-September 2015 (see photo below). The signs were taken down a day after they were posted. Who took them down? Madison Kipp? The city?
These highly contaminated soils will be excavated October 6-9, 2015. Soils with PCBs at such high levels would in most cases be excavated immediately, but city and state officials decided not to excavate while the splash pad was open, because they know excavation will disrupt contaminated soils, releasing PCBs into surrounding air and onto nearby soils and pavement—exposing toddlers and children playing at the splash pad just feet away, with mothers (often holding babies) looking on.
Even though they decided to leave the soils with high PCB levels in place all summer, neither DNR nor City of Madison officials felt that signs alerting people to the high levels of PCBs along the bike path were warranted during this time. They fenced part of the PCB contaminated area off, but left the jogging path open.
City staff said they do not plan to post any signs before or during the upcoming excavation in October, assuring us they will make sure the area is “secure.” How will the area be “secured” to prevent the release of PCB contaminated dusts into surrounding air, soils, and bike path during the three-day (or more) excavation?
The photograph below shows the dust clouds released when soils were excavated for the construction of the Goodman splash pad last summer/fall; soils under the splash pad are known to have high levels of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), heavy metals, and numerous other toxic contaminants (likely including PCBs, though they haven’t been tested)–see here. Children were playing beneath this dust cloud when this photo was taken. Nothing was done to by city or state officials, or Goodman Center leaders, to prevent this.
Though the city plans to communicate about the upcoming excavation with the select group of people on the neighborhood association listserve, most parents of children using the splash pad and bike path, and/or whose children play daily at the Goodman Community Center, including many minority, low-income parents from the Darbo Worthington area, are not on this listserve and will continue to be unaware of high PCB levels right next to where their children play. Most people walking, jogging, biking, walking pets, and pushing strollers along the bike path are also not on this listerve, and are therefore in the dark about what they could be collecting on their shoes and bike/stroller wheels—and what their pets might be ingesting and gathering on their fur—and bringing into their homes.
Why are city officials unwilling to post warning signs, though they definitely have the authority to do so on their own property? What is the harm? Signs could be made with almost no cost to the city.
Perhaps city officials do not want the public to be aware of how contaminated this highly-used city property is? Or perhaps the city is protecting Madison Kipp Corporation, the source of the PCBs?
Maybe the City of Madison is worried about its own liabilities? If so, isn’t it sad that city government’s concerns about its liabilities are a higher priority than protecting public health? Doesn’t the city have an ethical responsibility to let people know about high levels of toxic contaminants on public property, so they can choose to avoid contaminated areas if they want to?
Apparently the City of Madison does not think so.
 In November 2014, a DNR website post said “clean-up activities for the rain garden along the bike path have been completed” and “Soil sampling confirmed that no further action was necessary” on city property. Obviously, this is not the case, but the DNR has chosen not to post any further updates for the public (as of Sept. 22 2015).
 This begs the question: Why didn’t they test and excavate these PCBs before opening the splash pad?
 DNR officials said that even though PCBs were found just 4 inches down right next to the jogging path, there is no chance of exposures to those on the path. However, surface soils on the jogging path were not tested at all so this is just speculation.
 Why don’t they block off the bike path during the excavation?