3M in Wausau ordered to investigate, clean up contamination found on west-side property

From Shereen Siewert

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires 3M in Wausau to investigate and clean up pollution on land that the company purchased late last year that is adjacent to a largely residential neighborhood.

The company received a letter from a responsible party in February from the DNR setting out the governmental requirements. State officials are currently reviewing 3M’s proposed cleanup plan.

In November 2020, 3M, 141 Rosecrans St., acquired the property from the Canadian National Railway. The approximately 1.25 hectare site comprises three pieces of land that consist of both railroad tracks and right of way. According to historical aerial photographs and topographical maps, the area seems to have been built on with railroad tracks since 1898. Two of the parcels involved run along Thomas Street.

DNR hydrogeologist Matt Thompson said the contamination was likely present prior to the company’s purchase of the property. Fanna Haile-Selassie, communications manager for 3M in Saint Paul, Minnesota, said the discovery was made as part of the company’s acquisition of the property and was immediately reported to DNR.

The DNR letter indicates specific concerns about trichlorethylene or TCE, a chlorinated solvent and common degreaser. From a human health perspective, TCE is of particular importance due to its potential for acute health risks at relatively low concentrations in the air, according to DNR letters. The substance is a breakdown product of a historically common chemical cleaning chemical. When TCE is present, vapors from contaminated soil or groundwater and along preferred routes, e.g. B. get into occupied buildings within sewers, according to the DNR. This is known as steam entry.

In addition to concerns about TCE, the DNR focused on samples with detected arsenic levels in excess of government regulatory standards. One of the samples is on property located at 1300 Cleveland Ave. borders, a property owned by the city in which arsenic was also detected in quantities above the legal limit values. The same sample also identified additional contaminants, including PCBs, which are groups of man-made organic chemicals made up of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine atoms. PCBs were manufactured domestically from 1929 until 1979 when manufacturing was banned.

PCBs do not degrade easily in the environment and remain between the air, water and soil for long periods of time. Because PCBs can travel long distances and have been found in snow and water in areas where they were not released into the environment, local residents and environmentalists say they pose potential concerns for residents living in nearby homes. Studies with PCBs in humans, according to the Illinois Dept. of Public Health has found increased rates of melanoma, liver cancer, gallbladder cancer, biliary tract cancer, gastrointestinal cancer and brain tumor and may be linked to breast cancer.

But Thompson said the main problem at this point is the arsenic in the soil.

“We are working with the DNR to resolve the issue and have already submitted our proposed work plan to the DNR for review,” said 3M’s Fanna Haile-Selassie.

On April 26, Arcadis US, Inc., on behalf of 3M, submitted a proposed work plan to the division outlining future soil exploration and remediation efforts.

3M’s consultant proposes new ground wells near West Thomas Street. Thomson said the DNR is currently considering whether or not to take additional soil samples, possibly near Sherman Street. Since no groundwater pollution was detected during the initial sampling event, no further groundwater studies will be required for the DNR at this time, Thompson said.

“Once the department reviews the investigation work plan for compliance with state law, it will notify any changes required and then wait for 3M to complete the additional fieldwork,” said Thompson.

Terry Kilian, spokesman for grassroots environmental group Citizens for a Clean Wausau, said the latest findings again showed that industrial operations are unsuitable for a largely residential area.

“With a property adjacent to 1300 Cleveland Avenue, we are concerned about levels of arsenic in the soil and other pollutants,” said Kilian. “Obviously there is no invisible barrier that prevents these contaminants from migrating to adjacent objects or objects in the immediate vicinity. We applaud DNR for issuing the Responsible Party’s letter, and we also hope that 3M has abandoned its plans to expand rail traffic on 1300 Cleveland Avenue as the public has made it clear that it is largely opposed to such improper expansion. “

3M is one of two companies operating at 1300 Cleveland Ave. wanted to buy from the city in order to expand their activities there, and were vigorously opposed to a recent zoning change that would reclassify the land for residential use.

Environmental history

Once known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, 3M has been operating in Wausau since 1929. The company employs around 150 people. The plant in Wausau is the company’s oldest production facility in the world.

The company has been repeatedly targeted both in Wausau and in other federal states in which it operates. Nationwide, 3M has been listed several times on the list of the 100 largest polluters by the Political Economy Research Institute in the country and has been fined 36 times since 2000 with US $ 852,642,126. Good Jobs First is a national policy research center.

3M ranks 103rd nationwide in the latest Toxic 100 Air Index, which rates US industrial polluters based on the US EPA Toxics Release Inventory. The PERI indices contain indicators for environmental justice in order to evaluate the effects on people and minorities with low incomes. The current list is based on data for 2018.

“The Toxic 100 and Greenhouse 100 inform consumers, shareholders, regulatory authorities, legislators and communities about which large companies emit toxic and climate-changing pollutants into our environment,” said Professor Michael Ash, Co-Director of the Corporate Toxics Information Project at PERI. “Not only do we evaluate how many pounds of pollutants are released, but also which ones are the most toxic. People have a right to be aware of the toxic dangers to which they are exposed. In providing this information, we will build on the achievements of the Right to Know Movement. “

In February 2019, the company closed a controversial lawsuit in Minnesota after agreeing to donate $ 850 million to the state to settle the largest environmental lawsuit in the state’s history. The lawsuit, which arose on allegations of decades of groundwater contamination in the Minneapolis area, was settled the day before a trial began.

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