Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Landfill Contamination in Wisconsin Has History Spanning a Generation

by Duane Craig

Fly Ash
This March 19th I wonder how many people in Wisconsin will remember that very day 27 years ago when six of the eight sites named as possible Superfund sites were landfills.

Then eerily, almost one year later to the day, March 7, 1985, came the UPI story about a farm family that had planted more than 100 crosses to mark the graves of its animals believed to have died from poison water. The account told of a child missing school because of vomiting and intestinal distress, a farm being liquidated because the cows no longer made enough milk and a couple working outside jobs to try to hang on to a farm with a $1,750 monthly mortgage.

There were six contaminated wells in the area, although a hydrologist at the time said none of the other families had experienced the level of distress as the family in the account. The pollution was thought to be originating at two landfills within three miles of the farm. Both sites had been operated by Lemberger Landfill, Inc., of Whitelaw, which filed for bankruptcy in 1983.

It would take almost eight years for cleanup to begin and at that time it was predicted the entire effort would require 20 years. However, the EPA’s five-year report released in 2010 said the efforts at remediation had been “ineffective” so the agency is currently recommending a new approach that uses hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The idea is to use the process to “expand underground fissures to allow contaminants to collect in one area to be pumped out.” This is an interesting twist on the use of a technology that has a record of pollution when used for natural gas extraction.

According to the EPA today, a 21-acre site was formerly a gravel pit turned town dump from 1940 to 1970. Lemberger disposed of up to 2,500 cubic yards of fly ash there each month from 1969 to 1976. The volatile organic compounds found in local wells in 1985 included 1,1,1-trichloroethane and trichloroethylene. The second site, a quarter of a mile from the other, occupies 16 acres and “wastes disposed included an estimated 900,000 gallons of wood tar distillates, paint wastes and other industrial wastes.” A plume of contamination in the ground water extends a mile-and-a-half and includes “1,1,1-trichloroethane, 1,1-dichloroethane, 1,1-dichloroethylene, trichloroethylene, and cis-1,2-dichlroethylene.”

From the beginning there has been a long list of responsible parties, including 150 area businesses, but the main list was 11 names long and included Lemberger Sites Remediation Group offering up to $25.9 million of the originally estimated $30 million cleanup costs.

It is widely accepted that a familial generation is about 25 years meaning this contamination spans a generation. But if you consider the contamination no doubt began at one of these sites in 1940, then it becomes a multi-generational event. Unfortunately, it may be many more years before it is undone, if ever.
You can see an interactive map here and when you Activate the Aerial Photo option from the drop down in the lower right corner you can get a good view of the sites. To follow the early history of the landfills, this EPA Superfund Record of Decision from 1994 provides background.

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