DNR Now Charging $700 to Answer Questions?

DNR Now Charging $700 to Answer Questions?

The DNR just doesn’t like to answer questions about Madison-Kipp Corp. MEJO has experienced the art of the “non-answer” answer from DNR for years, but now it has gotten to the point where DNR not only won’t answer questions, they want to charge $700 if we bother them again with questions.


——– Original Message ——–


Re: followup questions re Kipp


Thu, 05 Dec 2013 11:44:26 -0600


Maria Powell (MEJO) <>


Hanefeld, Linda S – DNR <>, Schmoller, Michael R – DNR <>, <>, Nehls-Lowe, Henry L – DHS <>, Walsh, Patrick – LEGIS <>, <>, Rummel, Marsha <>


Weihemuller, Wendy – DNR <>, Giesfeldt, Mark F – DNR <>, Aquino, Mark D – DNR <>, Miller, Mark <>,


Thanks for the responses. Unfortunately, most of your answers are evasive or so vague they are meaningless. We have indeed asked some of these questions before, but some were never answered and/or answers were vague. They were not detailed technical answers. We are of course aware of the documents on the DNR website; we have read most of them and they do not fully or adequately address our questions–in fact, documents posted there raised these questions in the first place.

Now, you seem to be telling us at the end of the email below that we have to pay the DNR $700 if we want any further responses to our questions (presumably this is what you mean by “additional technical assistance”).  This is the first time in my decades of environmental work I have heard of citizens being asked to pay huge fees to government agencies just for answering questions. Is this part of the DNR’s new “customer service” approach?

Are Madison Kipp Corporation and other industries also required to pay DNR $700 every time they want “technical assistance” from the agency? We know Madison Kipp representatives have been at the table for years with the DNR and other state agencies discussing legal, regulatory and technical issues and collectively making decisions–including  throughout the recent lawsuits. Do they pay for this “customer service,” or “technical assistance”? If I and other citizens want to meet with you in person to discuss our questions, can we do so? Do we have to pay a fee for that?

Please clarify. Hopefully, you will do so without us paying you several hundred dollars first. We’d like to better understand our roles as citizen “customers” of our government public servants.


On 12/4/2013 3:46 PM, Hanefeld, Linda S – DNR wrote:

Greetings, Maria,

 My responses are included in your text below.


From: Maria Powell (MEJO) [] Sent: Friday, November 22, 2013 9:27 AM
To: Hanefeld, Linda S – DNR; Schmoller, Michael R – DNR;; Nehls-Lowe, Henry L – DHS; Walsh, Patrick – LEGIS;; Rummel, Marsha
Subject: Re: followup questions re Kipp


Will anyone be able to address the questions below? Please let me know.


On 11/14/2013 12:25 PM, Maria Powell (MEJO) wrote:

Linda et al:

We have now read through a few more of the Kipp documents released on Nov. 2, and we have some follow-up questions:

-Has Kipp provided the “updated conceptual site model” that DNR asked for by Sept. 30 in the June DNR letter? If so, can we access it? We have been asking for Kipp’s CSM for two years.

Kipp has provided information about their site conceptual model in several documents.  The complete file is available for review at the South Central Regional Headquarters building at 3911 Fish Hatchery Road, Fitchburg.  Please contact Wendy Weihemuller (608-275-3212) to schedule a review time if needed.

-As you know, EPA guidances recommend evaluation of the vapor intrusion pathway at buildings located within 100 feet laterally or vertically from a subsurface VOC source “of potential concern.” Based on the most recent data, does Goodman Center still not meet these criteria?

The Department has answered this question in previous correspondence.   The DNR has concluded that vapor issues for the neighborhood have been adequately investigated/addressed.  Please use the link below to access the document summarizing vapor sampling results for the Kipp neighborhood.

-What is the rationale for the location of the water table well on the Goodman property?

To define the extent of groundwater contamination at the water table in that direction.

-What is/are the source(s) of the PCBs on the Waubesa side of Kipp?

The “source” of PCBs is unknown, although DNR believes activities at Kipp have contributed to the PCB contamination there.

-Why is indoor air sampling only being done in the office portions of MKC, and not the rest of the plant?

DNR is determining whether the is the potential for vapor intrusion issues at the facility. The office portion of the facility seems like a logical place to start.

-Has any groundwater testing directly to the south of Kipp been ruled out? If so, on what basis?

 Based on the data collected to date, we feel we know enough about groundwater in that direction.

Also, the June letter asked Kipp to conduct soil sampling for VOCs and PCBs in the raingarden. Yet Arcadis had already tested the raingarden area on 6/21/12, and data from one boring done then was included in the raingarden document released on Nov. 2. Was the DNR not aware of this data when they wrote the June letter? Or is the DNR asking for further testing beyond what was done in June  2012? Please clarify.

The DNR was aware of the June 2012 data.  Additional sampling was required to determine nature/extent of that contamination.

We will probably have more questions once we have read through all the documents in more detail.

If you find you need additional technical assistance, please be aware that there is a $700 fee for any requests for detailed responses similar to those you have been receiving (see chapter NR749, Wisconsin Administrative Code, for more details:  ).  DNR has made many documents regarding this case available both on-line at:  , and at the local library.  As mentioned above, the complete file can be reviewed by appointment.

Thanks in advance for your responses,


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PCEs with your Pie, Anyone? Toxic Plume Under Goodman Center Still Ignored…

PCEs with your Pie, Anyone? Toxic Plume Under Goodman Center Still Ignored…

A couple weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend in the Ironworks Café at the Goodman Community Center. The food was delicious and the servers were helpful and friendly.  Pre-school age children were laughing and playing in the playground. Teenage kids were taking plants from the raised-bed gardens just outside the café to the compost pile. We agreed that Goodman’s gardening and food service programs for teens, and other programs for children, are impressive and commendable.

But while munching on my sandwich, I remembered that the highest levels of PCE found on the Goodman property before redevelopment (in 2001) were in soils just a few feet outside my window, under the outdoor cafe. PCE over the enforcement standard level was also found in the groundwater below where the outdoor café is now. It’s not clear how deep this contamination was at the time.

In April 2013, Madison-Kipp Corp. consultants released a map of a huge plume of much higher levels of PCE and other volatile organic compound (VOC) contamination beneath the Goodman property. Given that the highest levels of groundwater contamination at Madison-Kipp are at the northern part of the property, just across the bike path from the center (a few feet from the raised bed gardens), this is not surprising.

The top layers of contaminated soils at Goodman were removed and replaced before the center was opened, but the contaminated groundwater is still there. What levels of PCE and other VOCs are beneath the center now? How far below? Is the plume releasing toxic vapors into the Goodman Center? Nobody knows.

And apparently, nobody wants to know. This month the DNR released documents showing that the agency is finally asking Kipp to sink a shallow well on the Goodman property. But why will this well be located way out in the parking lot area? Toxic vapors released from any shallow groundwater contamination there will mostly dissipate in outdoor air. Whether contamination is or isn’t found there, this will not tell us much about exposures to people inside the Goodman Center. If there are PCEs and other toxic VOCs in shallow groundwater beneath the center, vapors released from this water will likely concentrate beneath the center—and then seep up into the building. Testing way out in the parking lot will tell us little to nothing about exposures to people in the center.

Yet again, we ask: Why are potential toxic exposures to the most vulnerable people—children and seniors in the Goodman Center—being ignored? Why have our questions about these potential exposures been repeatedly ignored or dismissed (and at times even ridiculed) by public health officials and Goodman leaders? Since the significant and widespread PCE and PCB contamination at Kipp was uncovered in 2011-2012, to our knowledge not even a single test has been done at Goodman to see if children there are exposed to Kipp’s contaminants in soil, groundwater, and/or air. Why not?

Perhaps neither Madison-Kipp nor Goodman leaders want to open up this politically messy can of worms—especially since they have been in bed together for years. Madison-Kipp has supported Goodman in a variety of ways, financial and otherwise, since the center’s inception. A year before the center opened, in a May 2007 letter to the Madison Planning Commission, CEO Reed Coleman bragged that “Madison-Kipp is a proud supporter of the new Goodman Atwood community center. What an asset it will be to the entire east side. Madison-Kipp is committed to helping with the success of the new center and have lent our support in numerous ways…” (Ironically, he then goes on to offer parking in the Kipp lot, which we now know was coated in PCBs for years, for Goodman Center users).

While things seem to have been cozy historically between Madison-Kipp and Goodman, opening up the can of worms related to Kipp’s toxic contamination plume under Goodman could turn very ugly, with former bedfellows quickly becoming enemies. Though Goodman closure documents explicitly state that Kipp is the source of the PCEs in the groundwater under the Goodman property, if this issue was opened up again, Kipp would likely blame past industrial activities on the Goodman property (e.g., Kupfer Ironworks). In a March 2012 email to the DNR and other public officials, Kipp attorney David Crass resisted DNR’s request that soil vapor probes be placed on the bike path north of the Kipp property,[1] noting that “…historic PCE use has been documented at the Goodman Center property, which will lead to questions regarding origins of any results and will infect any future decisionmaking regarding the results.”

Hmmm. So maybe it’s to both Goodman’s and Madison-Kipp’s benefit to stay mum and resist testing, and deny any public health risks at Goodman—regardless of the source of the pollution—rather than face the uncomfortable prospect of intense political, legal, and financial battles with former bedfellows?  In a twisted way, perhaps Kipp and Goodman are protecting each other?

What about government officials? Why are they so adamantly declaring that there are no exposures whatsoever in the center, though there haven’t been any tests? It seems they are either woefully unaware of the current scientific research and EPA guidances on PCE vapor intrusion (which indicate that vapor intrusion should be investigated in the Goodman building), or they are totally ignoring them. Of course, they approved the re-development of the Goodman Center in 2008 apparently without considering vapor intrusion, even though extremely high levels of PCE and other VOCs had already been well documented on the northern part of the Kipp property (just feet away from the Goodman building) beginning in 1994. If tests now were to show that vapors from the plume under Goodman are leaking into the center (and/or that children there are exposed to other toxic contamination from Kipp), blame for the lack of oversight that led to these exposures would be directed at them. Maybe not testing at all is way to avoid this uncomfortable situation?

So if our suspicions are correct, Madison-Kipp, Goodman leaders, and government officials alike are, ironically, protecting each other (intentionally or not) by putting their concerns about politics, money, and reputations above assessing risks to children and seniors, who apparently don’t matter in their political games. How unethical is this?

Note to readers: We would love for our speculations above to be wrong. If anyone out there wants to disagree—or better yet, send information disproving anything said above—please do so! Email

[1] Vapor probes were eventually placed along the south edge of the bike path and results from 3/30/12 and 10/26/12 showed concerning levels of PCE and several of its breakdown products at the probe right across from the circle gathering area at Goodman. If these levels were under a building, they would likely be a problem as far as vapor intrusion inside the center. But it seems nobody will test inside—or even anywhere near—the center.

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Oops!!! Maybe a Raingarden for Kipp’s Toxic Runoff Wasn’t a Good Idea After All?

Oops!!! Maybe a Raingarden for Kipp’s Toxic Runoff  Wasn’t a Good Idea After All?


 Children Creating Kipp Raingarden in 2006–Mucking Around in Kipp’s PCBs! Original Photo Caption from the 2006 Rock River Newsletter: Whitehorse Middle School science students seemed to enjoy rolling up their shirtsleeves and  pants legs to plant more than 2,000 of the 3,200 plants at the Friends of Starkweather Creek rain garden at Kipp and the bike path in Madison. A casualty of the muck: one pair of a student’s flip-flops and one of Susan Priebe’s pink “Crocs.” For photos and more information, see:


In an October 9, 2013 letter, Wisconsin DNR and City of Madison asked Madison Kipp Corporation to remove contaminated soil from the raingarden built next to MKC on city property in 2006 by Whitehorse Middle School students and teachers (in the photo above) along with many other volunteers. Soil tests done by Kipp consultants in the raingarden in June 2012 showed polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) levels above the residential and industrial “direct contact” residual contaminant levels (RCLs); in other words, direct physical contact with this soil should be avoided.[1]

We commend the DNR and City for finally asking Kipp to excavate this contaminated soil. But why did they wait over a year after Kipp consultants tested soils in the garden area share this data with the public and ask Kipp to excavate? Also, recently posted documents don’t tell the whole story. Kipp consultant documents posted by the DNR on Nov. 1 selectively highlight results from only one soil boring, not reporting results from borings just a few feet away showing much higher levels of PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). For instance, one shallow boring on the edge of the raingarden, not reported in recent documents, had total detected PCB levels of 45 ppm— significantly higher than the residential RCL (.222 ppm) and the industrial RCL (.744 ppm). The levels reported from just one boring were much lower (.82 and 2.5 ppm), though still higher than the RCLs.

Documents also don’t mention that all soil tests in the raingarden area showed that tetrachloroethyene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), 1, 1,-dichloroethene, carbon tetrachloride and vinyl chloride were much higher than the “soil to groundwater pathway” residual contaminant levels (also called RCLs). In other words, these chemicals in the soils pose risks to groundwater, which is very shallow in the raingarden area—only 10 or less feet below the surface. This is more than a little ironic, given that the purpose of the raingarden is to encourage contaminants to filter downward.[2]

Further, in all raingarden soil samples, arsenic levels were much higher than residential, industrial, and groundwater RCLs. Kipp consultant documents dismiss this, noting that “The presence of arsenic in the rain garden appears to represent naturally occurring background conditions.” Whether or not all of this arsenic is “naturally occurring,” arsenic is still very toxic to humans and in many places is becoming a significant problem in groundwater. Given this, why are these levels being dismissed? Why is there so much arsenic, natural or not (likely both) everywhere in surface soils? Metal smelting (which is what Kipp does) is known to produce arsenic, but that couldn’t possibly have added any arsenic to the soils next to the plant, right? Why isn’t anyone even asking this question?

Sadly, regardless of these findings, public health officials are dismissing or ignoring obvious human exposures to these soils in disingenuous (if not absurd) ways. When we raised questions about exposures to children who created this raingarden, in an October 2012 article, public health officials ridiculed us as “alarmist” and “wrong,” even though by that point raingarden soil tests (not shared publicly yet) had already verified that the area was quite contaminated. More recently, in a Nov. 5 Wisconsin State Journal article, John Hausbeck from the Madison Dane County Public Health Department assured us that “Those using the bike path generally would not be exposed to what’s going on in the ditch” (no duh! as if that is what people are concerned about…). But he said nothing at all about exposures to the children who created the raingarden—and people who have maintained the garden since 2006.

Were the children and adults working in close contact with this soil aware of the contamination, so they could take precautions (gloves, boots, etc) as any workers who will now excavate the soil are expected to?[3] Based on the photo above, no. Would parents of the children who helped create the garden let them work there had they known about the contamination? We doubt it.

This sad situation raises many questions about why city, county, and state government officials allowed this raingarden there in the first place—and why the neighborhood so enthusiastically supported it.[4]

The raingarden project was funded by a Dane County Water Quality Initiative Grant and coordinated by the Rock River Coalition, and was lauded by the neighborhood, government agencies, and Mayor Cieslewicz. Project partners included SASYNA, City of Madison, Madison Kipp Corporation, Madison Gas and Electric Co., AtwoodCommunity Center, Glass Nickel Pizza and Whitehorse Middle School. It was created explicitly to address runoff from MKC and to protect Starkweather Creek. According to the Rock River Newsletter (link above) about the project, Whitehorse students and volunteers “helped plant, apply weed barrier, and mulch. The rain garden will help capture stormwater runoff coming from the Kipp parking lot…and protect a fen-like area around Starkweather Creek (emphasis added).

We think raingardens are great, and we commend efforts to protect Starkweather Creek from further pollution. By 2006 the creek had already been polluted for over 100 years by Kipp, Rayovac (now gone), numerous other industries, the airport and widespread non-point urban runoff (in the 1990s, a huge quantity of PCB and metal-contaminated sediment was dredged from the creek). But was a raingarden the appropriate (or ethical) way to deal with highly contaminated runoff from Madison Kipp (or any heavy industry), given what was known at that point? By 2006, Kipp and DNR documents dating back to the 1990s showed that contaminated runoff from the most toxic hotspots at the Kipp factory went for decades into a drainage ditch that emptied into the rain garden area. Kipp officials, of course, also knew that they had used PCBs for decades on the parking lot next to the raingarden area—the same parking lot the raingarden was supposed to capture runoff from.[5]

Why would anyone think a raingarden is a good way to deal with toxic runoff from MKC? Even more troublingly, why would anyone think that having children build such a garden in that location is OK? At the least, why didn’t agencies involved have the soil tested before the raingarden was created?[6]

Unfortunately, this situation reflects the ongoing denial among government agency officials, including the ones responsible for protecting public health, that there could be any actual exposures to toxins among people around Kipp, and especially to the most vulnerable—children. While Kipp consultants continue to measure high levels of very toxic contaminants on and around the Kipp property, no matter what the results, officials deny that anyone is (or was ever) exposed, despite abundant and obvious evidence to the contrary. They marginalize and discount anyone who even raises questions about possible exposures as “alarmist.” Why?

[1] When the garden was built, 2-4 feet of soil were excavated and backfilled with “new” soil (consisting of sand, compost, and topsoil). It is highly likely that the original soil excavated was much more contaminated than the backfill, given that this area was the recipient of decades of toxic runoff from the Kipp property. However, the 2012 tests suggest that the fill may have been contaminated as well and/or that Kipp runoff since 2006 contaminated it (or both). Where did the original soil go? Where did the fill soil com from?

[2] Ironically, the consultant for the city (CGC, Inc.) that did the original analysis of this site concluded that “Based on the relatively thick layer of low permeability clay encountered in the borings, this site does not appear suitable to infiltrate significant quantities of rainwater.”

[3] Kipp’s consultant documents state that “If any soil is excavated below grade…personnel shall wear appropriate personal protective equipment to limit exposure to the contaminants…” (August 2013, ARCADIS Materials Handling Plan).

[4] MEJO leaders questioned garden proponents about the safety, efficacy, and ethics of this garden in 2005-6, but were ignored.

[5] The soil removed to create the raingarden was likely much more contaminated than the soil that replaced it. DNR claimed not to have known about the use of PCBs on the parking lot till 2012; this may be true, but they would have at least known about the possibility that PCBs were used on the parking lot had they read documents Kipp consultants submitted to them. Regardless, the agency certainly knew about all the other toxic contaminants found throughout the Kipp property and the drainage ditch that for decades emptied into the raingarden area. MKC’s enthusiastic support for the raingarden project raises even more troubling questions. Did MKC, perhaps, support the raingarden project in part because they wanted the soil there to be excavated to remove highly contaminated soil they knew would be there?

[6] The consultants who did the soil boring for this project (CGC, Inc., subcontracted to Kitson Environmental Services) noted that they had not screened for environmental contaminants because they had not been asked to by the City. Their disclaimer section read: “Unanticipated environmental problems have led to numerous project failures (emphasis in original). If you have not yet obtained your own geoenvironmental information, ask your geotechnical consultant for risk management guidance. Do not rely on an environmental report prepared for someone else.” But apparently the City never did any soil contaminant testing or asked for any advice on “risk management” from their consultant.


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Kipp Settles Lawsuit, Silences Neighbors with Money, and Denies Responsibility

Kipp Settles Lawsuit, Silences Neighbors with Money, and Denies Responsibility


The class action lawsuit against Madison-Kipp Corporation (MKC) was approved in U.S. District Court on Oct. 28 in a hearing that lasted a few minutes. The judge, lawyers, and two neighbors who represented the class said they were very pleased with the settlement, in which each class member will receive an average of $80,000. The judge, who said she received a letter from the DNR commending the settlement, asked no questions at all. The mood was pleasant and congratulatory. No doubt, champagne bottles were popped on all sides after this short hearing.

Should we all breathe easy now that the truth has been told and justice served? Far from it. In the settlement document, Kipp denies all lawsuit allegations—in other words, claims it didn’t cause the pollution or any related environmental or health problems. Ironically, Kipp also agrees to do what the DNR and EPA ask “to address environmental conditions at and migrating from the facility” (wait, didn’t Kipp deny causing the pollution?) but only “while fully and expressly reserving any and all rights to challenge, appeal, object to, or litigate any decision by WDNR or USEPA…”

In sum, Kipp denies causing pollution while admitting it, and agrees to do what DNR and EPA asks—well, unless they object to it. Apparently, our DNR thinks this dishonest doublespeak is A-OK.

Perhaps most troubling, the settlement money comes with a steep moral price for class lawsuit members who didn’t opt out:  silence about Kipp’s pollution, silence about what they believe, silence about the truth. It’s hush money. To get their money, class members had to agree that “they have not been diagnosed with, are not aware of, and do not have any symptoms that they suspect could be associated with any sickness, disease, or physical injury which may have been caused to them by the action or inaction” of Kipp. The settlement also includes a stipulation that class members “will not make any statements or representations relating to the claims and allegations asserted in the lawsuit, or direct any other Person to make any statements or representations relating to the claims and allegations asserted in the lawsuit, that disparage or otherwise impair the reputation, goodwill, or commercial interest of any other party hereto or their respective counsel.”

What wheeling, dealing, and political pressure went on behind the scenes among Kipp, DNR, and lawyers on both sides to come up with this duplicitous agreement? We’ll never know.

Do all the class members really not believe they have any health problems caused by Kipp’s pollution? Or not even suspect they have health problems that might be associated with it? Of course not. Several people in the class lawsuit have serious health problems, including cancer, that they believe are associated with Kipp’s pollution. Some suspect birth defects in the neighborhood over the years were connected to Kipp’s pollution. Others have mentioned neighbors who already died, they think, from Kipp’s pollution.

So why did they sign this agreement? Some don’t seem to understand what they agreed to. Regardless, they want this stressful Kipp fiasco to be over so they can move on with their lives. They all need the money. It’s very understandable. They certainly deserve money for their years of exposures to Kipp’s toxic pollution—though no amount of money can really compensate for this.

Remarkably, just one neighbor—one who needs the money just as much as others, if not more—had the courage and integrity to opt-out of the class lawsuit, foregoing the settlement money entirely, in order to continue speaking the truth about Kipp’s pollution and health problems without fear of retribution from Kipp. This person put truth and honesty before money.

Despite the lawsuit, Kipp’s huge plume of highly toxic contaminants continues to spread beneath the neighborhood towards the aquifer and the lakes. The factory’s air stacks continue to spew pollution into the neighborhood and beyond. All citizens will be paying for Kipp’s pollution indefinitely—with our dollars, our health, and the health of wildlife and the environment. Our children and grandchildren will be paying for it. We need as many courageous people as possible to continue speaking out publicly about this.

So, THANK YOU to the incredible, courageous person who opted out of the Kipp lawsuit!


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Kipp’s Contaminant Plume Under Goodman Center–Are Children Exposed? Nobody Knows…

Kipp’s Contaminant Plume Under Goodman Center–Are Children Exposed? Nobody Knows…

Documents from Madison Kipp’s consultants, released by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) June 21, 2013, show that Kipp’s plume of toxic volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) is beneath the Goodman Community Center, and PCBs were found at levels above the residual contaminant levels (RCL) in the shallow soils along between the bike path and Kipp’s northern property line—just feet away from where teens recently built raised-bed gardens next to the bike path on the Goodman property.

Sadly, these findings are no surprise. DNR and local and state public health agencies have known about VOC hotspots on the north side of Kipp, and the soil/groundwater contaminant plume, since the 1990s.  The plume under Goodman should have been fully mapped before the property was purchased for the center in 2005, but was not. The center building should have been tested for vapor intrusion before it opened in 2008—and if not then, in more recent years—but was not.  Levels of PCBs, PAHs metals, and other contaminants in soils on the Goodman property should have been tested before excavations and garden projects, but were not (violating DNR laws; see previous article).

Are children, teens, and elderly at the center breathing toxic VOCs? Are they working with PCB, PAH and/or heavy metal contaminated soils in raised-bed gardens? Nobody knows. Nobody has measured, and apparently nobody plans to. Why not? Because government agencies just know there’s no problem!

Last fall John Hausbeck, from Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC), assured Goodman Community Center Executive Director Becky Steinhoff that “health hazards related to PCE and PCBs…do not exist at Goodman.” He said MEJO statements raising concerns were “alarmist” and that “saying kids at Goodman Community Center are in danger is wrong.” This summer Mr. Hausbeck reaffirmed again, with no monitoring data to back up his statements, that children at Goodman are not exposed to Kipp contaminants.

In other words: if you don’t monitor toxins, health hazards do not exist! Our public health agency calls MEJO “alarmist” and “wrong” simply for raising questions. Indeed, we think anyone who cares about protecting children’s health should be alarmed by the proximity of Kipp’s contaminants to children at Goodman and lack of data on what they are exposed to. Yet the local public health department blithely dismisses the idea that there could be any exposures at all.

We do not think we are wrong for asking questions about children’s exposures to toxic contaminants. It’s our health department’s “no data, no problem” approach, in our opinion, that’s wrong.

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Fireworks Over Downtown Madison Pose No Long-term Health Risks? We Disagree

Fireworks Over Downtown Madison Pose No Long-term Health Risks? We Disagree

Jeff Lafferty of Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC) assured the public in recent newspaper articlesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA that the huge Rhythm & Booms fireworks show planned for downtown Madison in 2014 poses no long-term public health risks. In response, here’s the statement we wrote after PHMDC discounted environmental and public health risks of the Warner Park Rhythm & Booms show, based on studies before and after the 2013 show. The same arguments are relevant now in considering the public and environmental health risks of a huge downtown fireworks show. Here’s what we wrote:

Why is Public Health Madison Dane County more interested in protecting the fireworks show than in protecting public and environmental health?

In a recent op-ed, Janel Heinrich, the Director of Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC) questions comments made by the northside grassroots group Wild Warner on the ecological effects of Rhythm & Booms fireworks. Ms Heinrich asserts that the group “exaggerates” findings of a 2012 Rhythm & Booms fireworks study and that their claims about environmental effects of this huge fireworks display are “speculation” and “opinion.”

Unfortunately, Ms Heinrich resorts to speculation and opinion herself rather than drawing on a large body of scientific research—or even reviewing results of her own department’s 2005 Rhythm & Booms fireworks’ study and comparing them to the 2012 results.  The 2005 PHMDC study showed significant spikes in several toxic metals in Warner lagoon surface water after both Madison Mallard and Rhythm & Booms fireworks shows. In fact, based on their results, public health department staff, the authors of the report, concluded that “firework displays at Warner Park do impact the water quality in the lagoon in the park.”

Did metal concentrations after the 2012 show (unlike after the 2005 show) really show “no discernable change,” as Ms Heinrich highlights? Did emissions from the 2012 fireworks somehow not fall onto the lagoon beneath them? This is extremely unlikely (if not impossible), but unfortunately, the 2012 study did not include appropriate background samples, making it difficult to see spikes in chemicals in the lagoon after Rhythm & Booms. In the 2005 study, background water samples and post-fireworks samples were timed in a way that could detect spikes in metals emitted from fireworks in Warner lagoon after the fireworks. Still, interestingly the 2012 pre- and post-fireworks water levels of some metals, such as barium and strontium, were significantly higher than 2005 pre- and post-fireworks samples.

Public health authors of the 2005 report also concluded that the toxic metals emitted from the fireworks “most likely sank into the sediment in the lagoon upon reaching the water.” In other words, they knew that decreases in metals in water in the weeks after the show did not mean they magically disappeared—but that they moved elsewhere in the environment (most likely the sediments). Ms Heinrich, in contrast, states that perchlorate decreased to background levels in surface water after the 2012 fireworks “due to microbial degradation”—a claim based on speculation, not evidence, from the draft report—and “dilution,” which is just another way of saying it spread out and went elsewhere. Perchlorate is highly mobile in the environment. Since perchlorate wasn’t tested for anywhere else, we don’t really know where it went after the 2012 show or previous shows. Not knowing where it went does not mean it is no longer there.

Further, it is disturbing that our public health department director expressed no concern whatsoever about the human health effects of this huge fireworks show and others like it. Many studies show that fireworks displays emit numerous toxic metals (strontium, barium, lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and more), dioxins, and radioactive materials into the air at times at levels well above urban background levels (which include automobile exhaust). One study found over 500 times more barium in the snow after a fireworks show than that measured before the show. Another study found numerous metals in air well above background levels—including strontium 86 times above, cobalt nine times, and lead seven times above background air levels. Neither the 2005 nor the 2012  Rhythm & Booms studies tested air during or after the shows, but many of these contaminants were likely in the air at similar levels as those found in these studies.

Fireworks contaminants fall as tiny particulates onto the people attending shows—including many infants and children—who then have no choice but to inhale them. Inhalation of particulates emitted from fireworks causes spikes in asthma and cardiovascular attacks—and emergency room visits rise during fireworks shows and in the days immediately following them. Children, elderly, asthmatics, and people with cardiovascular problems are particularly at risk. The effects are not just limited to the areas immediately under the shows. Clouds of fireworks contaminants often travel to other parts of the city, where they can linger for days.

Wild Warner’s statements about effects of fireworks chemicals on wildlife and the environment are also far from “speculation” and “opinion.” Firstly, no scientific study is required to understand that contaminants released from hundreds if not thousands of pounds of exploding fireworks fall onto land, water, people, and wildlife beneath the shows. More importantly, it is well-documented scientifically that once in the environment, heavy metals and chlorinated compounds are highly persistent, build up in ecological food webs over time, and affect wildlife health. These effects were not assessed in the recent studies, but that doesn’t mean they did not or will not occur over time as chemicals from yearly fireworks shows build up in the environment.

Basic ecology tells us that once toxic contaminants are in the ecological food web, they usually find their way into human bodies as well, though it may take a long time. Contaminants build up in sediments, then aquatic organisms and plants, then fish and wildlife, and then people. Subsistence anglers who fish in Warner Park and other Madison lakes—many of whom are low-income people of color who rely on fish as a food source—are particularly vulnerable because they eat fish regularly. Toxic metals and organochlorines in fish end up in their bodies and brains, potentially causing neurological, immune, endocrine, and other problems years after they ate the fish.

It is troubling, to say the least, that Madison’s public health department seems so eager to discount concerns about environmental and public health risks from this huge fireworks display, especially given the abundant scientific evidence that these concerns are merited.  Why is Public Health Madison Dane County more interested in protecting the fireworks show than in protecting public and environmental health?


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Neighbors Settle for $7.2 Million But Many Kipp Environmental Injustices Still Not Addressed

The immediate neighbors around the Madison-Kipp Corp. factory settled their two class action lawsuits on Monday, July 15. The immediate neighbors and their attorneys will receive a total of $7.2 million and there will be additional pollution remediation at those plaintiffs’ properties. The $4.6 million federal court settlement can be found here; the $2.6 million state court settlement will be posted later.

Meanwhile, Kipp continues to pollute; nothing about its operations has changed and existing PCE plumes and PCB problems continue to affect children of color and the elderly at the Goodman Community Center (a neighbor that did not join the class action lawsuit), as well as Lowell Elementary School,  adjacent businesses, a wide swath of the surrounding Atwood neighborhood, a water well and Lake Monona.

A partial list of ongoing concerns:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to negotiate with Madison-Kipp about the EPA Notice of Violation issued last fall regarding serious air pollution violations involving chlorine, dioxin, and other hazardous air pollution emissions.
  • The PCB remediation around Kipp continues (will DNR ever test for dioxin, a contaminant found in PCBs)? Dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals ever studied
  • Preferential pathways for PCE contamination (utility corridors, sewers, storm drains) were never addressed at Kipp. So the full extent of shallow contamination offsite is unknown–which means the full extent of vapor intrusion in homes and businesses around Kipp is also unknown.
  • The extent of the PCE plume still isn’t fully defined; How deep is it? How far north does it go? How far south? Has it reached the lake?
  • Children at the Goodman Community Center are building raised-bed gardens about 50 feet from the most contaminated area at Kipp
  • High levels of contamination sit right under Goodman’s Ironworks Café. Nobody has assessed the depth of this contamination and whether it is causing vapor intrusion in the café. Why not?
  • The Wisconsin Department of Justice lawsuit regarding PCBs is still active
  • The Madison Water Utility is still unsure if it can use Well 8, down plume from Kipp’s PCE contamination and next to Lake Monona in Olbrich Park

To date, no public agencies nor elected officials have addressed–or even mentioned in reams of reports to date–pollution exposures to children at the Goodman Community Center and Lowell Elementary School. Are they completely unaware of what environmental justice means?

When will this change?



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Madison Water Utility Tells Customers “You Wingnuts Just Can’t Take a Joke!”…

Madison Water Utility Tells Customers “You Wingnuts Just Can’t Take a Joke!”… While Itron Corporation Laughs All the Way to the Bank

With his contract renewal going before the Madison Common Council on July 16, and given Mayor Paul Soglin’s recent call for training “to ensure everyone of Madison’s staff in every department understands that they cannot effectively and properly serve the public…unless every action, every word, is committed to gaining trust and dignity”, a review of Madison Water Utility General Manager Tom Heikkinen’s tenure is in order. The capstone of his five years in Madison has been the $14 million smart meter project, called “Project H2O,” which is behind schedule, rife with problems and so poorly implemented that more than 1250 customers have “opted out” to date. The following is a synopsis of Heikkinen’s interactions with his customers, the ratepayers of Madison, regarding smart meters.

In late 2011, a group of Madison citizens began raising questions about Madison Water Utility’s $14+ million “Advanced Metering Infrastructure” (AMI), which requires the placement of “smart meters” in every home and business in Madison. Citizens raised questions about health risks, efficacy and longevity of the meters, corporate influence on public utility functions, costs to ratepayers, privacy issues, and lack of broad public discussion in implementing the systems. See here and here for previous citizen commentaries on the smart meter fiasco. Citizens who questioned AMI were first ignored by the Water Utility, and then treated with thinly-veiled ridicule when they began attending meetings and demanding answers. But the group of citizens persevered—and grew—and eventually the Water Utility was pressured into offering an opt-out, albeit one with unjustified and punitive costs.

But the smart meter debacle is far from over.

On May 1, 2013, gloating about having weathered the smart meter debacle, Mr. Heikkinen depicted citizens who questioned AMI as “wingnuts” at a professional seminar for state water regulators. At the June Water Utility Board meeting, Mr. Heikkinen explained with a smirk that his presentation was “tongue-in-cheek” and meant to provide “comic relief.” Board members rushed to his defense, explaining that sometimes humor just doesn’t translate when people feel strongly about the issues at hand. The Board Chair lectured citizens on not being able to take a joke. Yet, a recent open records request has revealed how insightful citizens’ concerns and questions about AMI have been all along.  Installations of the smart meters have been beleaguered with significant problems, and the project is now far behind schedule. Citizen complaints about Corix, the company contracted to install meters, have been numerous and ongoing. Hundreds of installed meters are not working properly and will require “mitigation.” Since the contract with Corix is nearly over, the Water Utility has to hire LTEs to complete the large number of installations that are not complete yet. How much will the project run over its original $14 million cost? Who will pay for this? Utility rate payers, of course.

In addition to questions about the growing costs of AMI to Madison citizens, this ongoing debacle raises serious questions about increasing corporate influence over public functions in Madison, and about the state of democracy here overall. Water Utility emails reveal that the multinational Itron Corporation, which made millions selling its AMI system to Madison, has been advising utility and city leaders all along on how to answer—and often how to deflect—citizens’ questions about the system. Not surprisingly, much of the information Itron and industry consultants has provided to the Water utility—which then went to the public—has proven to be incorrect. Do we really want an international corporation telling our public agency leaders how to interact with the citizens they serve?

For example, after receiving initial citizens’ questions about smart meters in December 2011, Water Utility General Manager Tom Heikkinen’s first move wasn’t to respond to these citizens—his customers—but instead to contact Itron representatives for materials and advice on how to deflect them. Citizens continued to send questions, and while Heikkinen discussed them with Itron, citizens received no responses whatsoever for over five months—and then only after they finally went to a board meeting and demanded answers in person.

Worst of all, rather than engaging with citizens or their questions in these five months, the Water Utility instead worked behind the scenes to craft an ordinance that would threaten citizens with violations of law, huge fines, and possibly disconnection of water service if they didn’t cooperate with the smart meter installations. In a May 7, 2012 email message to Alder Sue Ellingson, assistant city attorney Doran Viste explained reasons for the ordinance changes: “…the ordinance changes will help empower the utility to gain access for the meter upgrades by giving it the ability to use citations and the threat thereof to gain access to properties where the owners/tenants are not being cooperative with the AMI upgrades” (emphasis added). The fines proposed in the ordinance ranged from $100 to $1000 per day. Inability to pay, or refusal to pay, would result in disconnection of water service. Alders Ellingson and Lauren Cnare agreed to sponsor these ordinance changes.

It wasn’t until the May 2012 board meeting, which several citizens attended after coming across the draft access ordinance on the meeting agenda, that utility leaders and board members were finally forced to directly acknowledge the questions they had been sending for months. Apparently, Water Utility leaders had hoped to quietly pass the highly punitive ordinance before citizens noticed—and without ever addressing their questions. Did the Water Utility hope threats in the ordinance would intimidate citizens and shut them up? Did Itron Corporation advise the Water Utility and City to develop this ordinance, perhaps based on lessons the corporation learned in other cities that implemented their systems and faced citizen resistance? This approach is not unexpected from a multinational corporation with $14 million at stake, and perhaps even the Water Utility; but why did our elected officials condone this?

Citizens, not deterred by the threatening ordinance attempt, but instead outraged by the antidemocratic approach, continued to ask questions and push for an opt-out. Finally, by the end of May 2012, Alders Anita Weier and Satya Rhodes-Conway suggested that the Utility develop an opt-out, which it decided to do some time in early June. The opt-out was announced publicly at a special June 19 city council meeting, but shared with alders and the mayor on June 12, when a smart meter-related resolution was tabled at a regular meeting.

Though pleased that an opt-out would be developed, citizens felt that many of their most critical questions about the AMI system (such as those about privacy issues, health risks, long-term costs, etc.) had not been adequately or honestly addressed. Some had not been addressed at all. So they petitioned the state Public Service Commission to require the Water Utility to address these issues. Unfortunately, the petition was eventually rejected by the PSC.

Nevertheless, citizens pressed on for answers to their questions. The Water Utility, apparently having not learning any lessons from what had already happened, continued to avoid engaging directly with them. Instead, Utility representatives trolled neighborhood discussion lists for citizen comments critical of AMI, at times refuting them in mean-spirited and patronizing ways. Citizen comments critical of AMI were forwarded to utility leaders.

On several occasions, Water Utility leaders gave citizens incorrect or highly misleading information, taken directly from Itron or smart meter industry consultants, apparently without any concern about the accuracy of these statistics. Since early 2012, citizens had been requesting accurate details about radio frequency signals emitted 24-7 by smart meters—information critical to understanding health risks. After months of asking, citizens finally received some questionable numbers from Itron and smart meter industry reports. Not trusting these numbers, citizens reviewed publicly available Itron specification sheets, and began monitoring installed meters with their own RF meters. They found that meters not only transmit strong bursts of radiofrequency radiation every 60 seconds, they also send signals out every five minutes that are orders of magnitude higher than the every-minute signals. After citizens sent Mr. Heikkinen info about these two signals, he emailed Itron asking for advice on how to rebut what citizens had found; instead, Itron told Mr. Heikkinen citizens were correct about the two types of signals. He never shared this information with citizens; to do so would have acknowledged they were right, and that the information the Water Utility had been sharing with the public all along was incorrect.

Most problematically, the Water Utility used some very questionable approaches to discredit citizens involved in anti-smart meter efforts, and to suppress public discussions and citizens’ efforts to share information critical of AMI. In July 2012, a member of the Water Utility Technical Advisory Committee, forwarded to Mr. Heikkinen and Board Chair Madeline Gotkowitz personal emails she received from a citizen who had been publicly sharing articles related to smart meter risks. Mr. Heikkinen and Ms. Gotkowitz (with Alders Cnare and Ellingson copied) then forwarded this citizen’s personal emails to the assistant city attorney, suggesting that she was a safety threat and asking if there was a way to ban her from audiotaping future water utility meetings. The assistant city attorney advised them that the citizen did not appear to be a threat, and that citizens have the right to tape WU meetings according to open meetings laws. The Technical Advisory Committee member, however, didn’t stop; on more than one occasion, she harassed and bullied citizens who were sharing information about smart meters at farmers markets and suggested that they didn’t have the right to be there. Did Water Utility leaders and city officials encourage this behavior? We don’t know, in part because critical emails were removed from the open records documents, with the excuse of “attorney-client privilege.” What is the Water Utility hiding? Regardless, we know that Water Utility leaders attempted to smear a citizen and ban her from recording public meetings, and to intimidate and silence citizens sharing opinions and information about an expensive publicly-funded project in public venues. This should be chilling to all Madison citizens who care about free speech and democracy.

Many months have passed since the opt-out policy was approved by the PSC. Even with the punitive opt out charges that were eventually developed, over 1250 customers have opted out (including one alder), and more will opt-out in coming months. Clearly, a large number of people have questions about these meters. Installation problems abound, and as of the summer of 2013, the smart meter program is not operational.

Meanwhile, however, Mr. Heikkinen apparently hasn’t learned anything about treating his monopoly customers—all Madison citizens—with respect, as the “wingnuts” comments referred to above demonstrate. He also made a special point to note in one PowerPoint slide that “the more PhDs, the less common sense,” illustrating his utter inability to respond to genuine, well-informed questions that demonstrated a greater knowledge of technical aspects of smart meter than he possessed.

Clearly a surreal reality exists at the Water Utility, where citizens and democracy are irrelevant—and the Water Utility Board, instead of providing independent oversight of the utility, is willingly playing along as rubber stampers, finding all Utility actions “in compliance” (to use their own jargon). Perhaps a change in leadership is needed; a change where customers are treated with respect, not contempt, and where democracy is the guiding principle.

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Kipp’s PCE contamination under–and past–Lowell School?

Kipp’s PCE plume on its way to drinking water well and Lake Monona

At the May 28 Madison Water Utility Board meeting, staff reported the following (from the minutes):

Madison Kipp Corporation/UW #8 Sentinel Well:

“Groundwater at the Madison-Kipp Corporation (MKC) facility continues to be monitored for VOCs. A new monitoring well (MW-25) was recently installed at the intersection of Ludington Avenue and Center Avenue, approximately 600 feet northwest of Unit Well 8. Preliminary sampling indicates low levels (1.6 ug-3.3 ug/l) of tetrachloroethylene (PCE) exist at a depth of 100-130 feet below the surface here. It appears that the edge of the PCE plume has reached this location. Conformational sampling has been conducted at this location and the pending result will be used to verify the presence and concentration of this compound. The installation of the sentinel well, proposed to be installed adjacent to Elmside Circle Park, remains on hold.”

In other words, the Kipp contaminant plume is under [and past] Lowell School. The phrase “the edge of the PCE plume has reached this location” implies that PCE just got there, but it is very likely the plume reached past Lowell School years ago [hence various breakdown products of PCE present in Well 8, which is past the school in Olbrich Park at the shore of Lake Monona.

Kipp should also pay for additional monitoring wells to the south and in the direction of Olbrich Park to determine the extent of its PCE plume in that direction. Who knows how many other homes and businesses have PCE under them?

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