It's a big story: The US EPA and Wisconsin DNR last fall had discovered new toxic "hot spots" in a popular city stretch of the Milwaukee River, the Journal Sentinel reports today:
State and federal authorities said Thursday they have identified new areas of toxic contamination in a section of the Milwaukee River that runs from E. North Ave. to the Estabrook Dam.
The polluted areas were found in the river and along the shoreline in a 4-mile stretch that has become increasingly popular as development had grown and other measures of water quality are showing signs of improvement, according to a 2014 Journal Sentinel series of stories Rivers Reborn.
It is regrettable that officials embargoed the release of this information until today - - one day after Wisconsin legislators completed a budget review discussion with DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp in front of the Joint Finance Committee and could have raised the story's issues and profile for the public by questioning Stepp and staff about it.
Here is the release which aired the news:
EMBARGOED: HOLD FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 2017
Community meeting set to discuss Milwaukee River floodplain soil and sediment sample results
MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Milwaukee Riverfront property owners, community members and stakeholder groups are encouraged to attend a public meeting set for April 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Gordon Park Pavilion to discuss results from recent soil and sediment testing in the floodplain of the river.
Following sampling conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in late 2016 at the request of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, preliminary results indicate the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs in some areas between Estabrook Dam and the former North Avenue Dam. The sampling area covers approximately 4 river miles.
In recent years, DNR and EPA have been working to assess and clean up residual PCBs in key segments of the Milwaukee River. PCBs were used as industrial coolants and lubricants for many years until being banned in the late 1970s.
While the PCB initial findings were not unexpected, officials from EPA, DNR, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee are working together to ensure public health is protected and provide a forum to answer questions from neighbors and others who visit the area. The floodplain is largely open to the public and contains walking trails as part of the Milwaukee River Greenway.
The amount of PCBs in this section of floodplain soil and sediment is generally low, so touching the contaminated material will not make people or pets sick, according to DHS. However, since small amounts of PCBs from food and other places can build up in the human body over time, common sense is recommended to avoid coming in contact with, or consuming PCBs when possible.
Preliminary data show PCB concentrations ranging from less than 1 part per million to approximately 24 parts per million in surface soil samples in this section of floodplain. By comparison, PCB concentrations were higher in Milwaukee River sediments upstream from the Estabrook Park Dam in the area including Lincoln Park. Concentrations there ranged from less than 1 part per million to greater than 100 parts per million and the area has been successfully remediated with work completed in 2015. Sampling in the current segment represents the next step identified as part of long-term cleanup goals for the river.
For those who regularly visit the Greenway in the current sampling area, common sense steps to minimize exposure to PCBs include avoiding skin contact with the soil, removing shoes when returning home after a visit, washing hands with soap and water and cleaning pets, bikes and tools. Anglers are encouraged to continue following posted fish consumption advisories, which can be found by visiting dnr.wi.govand searching “fish consumption.”
“The risk here is very low, but with warmer weather approaching we wanted to provide information in a timely way so people can make wise choices as they recreate in the Greenway,” said Rob Thiboldeaux, senior toxicologist with DHS. “The sampling was conducted here as part of a Great Lakes Legacy Act project which is providing assistance to the state for the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern. Working with DNR, other partner agencies, community residents and stakeholders, we intend to use the upcoming public meeting to listen, share information and lay the groundwork for appropriate next steps in the area.”
The public meeting will be held April 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Gordon Park Pavilion, 2828 N. Humboldt Boulevard, Milwaukee, Wis., 53212. In addition to a short presentation on the sample results and an overview of recent Milwaukee River cleanup efforts, officials from DHS, city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, EPA, DNR and various stakeholder groups will be on hand to answer questions.
In addition to the public meeting, local, state and federal officials are notifying local property owners and stakeholders directly. Additional outreach is expected to include signage and other information materials. More information about PCBs can be found by visiting dhs.wi.gov and searching “PCBs.”