Why does Cedar Creek need to be cleaned up?

The EPA held a public hearing on December 3rd, 2015 to highlight the proposed plan to cleanup the Cedar Creek Superfund site. Thanks to those who attended–it was a full house! The official public comment period ends December 16, 2015. Milwaukee Riverkeeper will be submitting formal comments on the proposed cleanup plan, but here are a few points of concern.

Some quick background first: approximately 5.1 miles of Cedar Creek are listed as a Federal Superfund site, due to contamination from Amcast (now defunct) and Mercury Marine. Mercury Marine constructed boat motors from a plant on St. John Avenue in Cedarburg from 1951 to 1982, and fluids containing PCBs leaked from its facility into the Ruck Pond on Cedar Creek. The Ruck Pond has been cleaned up, but the entire creek downstream is contaminated. Mercury Marine’s contractors have been taking sediment and soil samples on private properties along the creek to help determine design criteria for the upcoming “removal action” of these contaminants from private properties, and most of these properties have received reports of stream sediment and soil contamination in their backyards. EPA expects Mercury Marine to remove PCB-contaminated sediment in Columbia Pond and Wire and Nail Pond in spring 2016, which is welcome news, although it’s looking increasingly that this timeline is unrealistic, as EPA needs to still give approval and access to private properties still needs to be obtained.

The engineering evaluation/cost analysis (EE/CA), which outlines options for the cleanup, is available for public review here. A summary of studies as well as more information on how to comment can be found here.

Take Action Now!

In Wisconsin

Tell EPA to:

Recommend Sediment Cleanup Alternative 3. This includes removing PCB-contaminated sediment in Columbia and Wire and Nail ponds at all concentrations greater than 1 mg/kg at all depths per Federal recommendations. This achieves a concentration of PCBs after dredging (0.25 mg/kg or ppm) that is much closer to those needed to achieve safe fish tissue concentrations for consumption (0.21 mg/kg or ppm). This is also the target for the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load or pollutant reduction plan) for Cedar Creek, which was approved by both WDNR and EPA in 2010. Also, 1 ppm is the concentration of PCBs that we have been dredging for in the rest of the Milwaukee River Basin, including most recently in the Milwaukee River in the Estabrook Dam impoundment.

Reject Preferred Alternative 2. The preferred Alternative 2 only cleans up PCBs greater than 2.5 mg/kg at all depths or 98% of the PCBs for a relatively small costs savings of $2.4 million over Alternative 3. This is also not the same standard or cleanup level that has been required in other PCB dredging projects downstream in the Milwaukee and Kinnickinnic River Watersheds. The Preferred Alternative also relies on “natural attenuation” or “natural processes” to meet remaining cleanup goals. This is a misnomer as PCBs are not naturally broken down. They are basically saying that PCBs left behind will be covered up by sediment from upstream, and other pollutants will be diluted or dispersed in the future. This alternative would result in a PCB concentration post-dredge of 0.50 mg/kg, and its estimated it would take 15 years to get to the concentration post-dredge that Alternative 3 would achieve, and up to 30 years to achieve concentrations that would likely lead to conditions where fish could be safely eaten from the creek. This is unacceptable in the context of saving $3 million (Alt. 2 estimated at $23 million versus $26 million for Alt. 3).

Require a 2 foot sand cap to be placed after dredging, not 6 inches. This is in line with other sand caps required at other Superfund cleanups (e.g. the recent dredge of heavy metals from the Burnham Canal).

Support Soil Cleanup Alternative 2. This alternative, which is the recommended option, is the best as it removes (and does not cap) contaminated soil in the floodplain higher than 1 mg/kg of PCBs and replaces with clean backfill. Other options remove less contaminated soil adn rely on capping. We would suggest that PCBs are cleaned up to the 10-year floodplain level to more completely cleanup the contamination. Leaving some contamination behind in the floodplain would cause a chilling effect on future stream restoration opportunities as well as provide some constraints to homeowners as to future uses of their properties.

Proceed with cleanup plans for downstream areas quickly. We remain concerned about cleanup of downstream areas of Cedar Creek below the two ponds–Columbia and Wire & Nail–as we know the Creek as well as the Milwaukee River downstream to Thiensville Dam, contain areas of PCB contamination from when the Hamilton Dam failed in 1996, contaminating over 8 miles of river. It’s unclear whether this cleanup will take place. EPA staff when questioned intimated contamination was minor and in pockets and that it might not be worth doing. There needs to be a public conversation about the second phase of this project (phase OU-2B) and not just discussions between the Responsible Party and EPA. Homeowners questions and concerns need to be addressed, and they should not be left with the liability of cleaning up these areas if they need to have future work done on their properties. Similarly, we would not be able to afford to do restoration in any of these areas due to barriers related to State requirements to remediate contaminated soils. Failing to clean up these sites shifts the cost of clean-up from Mercury Marine to homeowners, government, NGOs and other stakeholders.