||Fox River Cleanup Badly Weakened in Proposed Amended Plan|
Help Clean The
River and Bay!
|Updated November 27, 2006
We ALL need to step forward and be counted at the Fox River public hearing on December 5th!
After 3.5 years of secret, closed-door meetings between the corporations, DNR and EPA, a drastically altered cleanup plan has been proposed, which bears little resemblance to the plan promised by the governments 3.5 years ago.
This plan would place weak caps over many of the toxic PCB hotspots in the river between the DePere Dam and the mouth, and would greatly reduce the quantity of toxic sediments removed from the river. Some toxic hotspots will be left without any treatment.
With this new plan, roughly 44-48% of the PCBs would be left behind
in the river, threatening our public health and wildlife for centuries
To see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's announcements, see:
These weakening changes are in addition to other weakening changes which were imposed on us 3.5 years ago. Those older changes included:
But at least that prior plan REMOVED a large share of the PCB contaminated sediments from the Fox River. We felt we had at least made some progress. This new plan is absolutely
unacceptable and a fraud.
We raised serious concerns about capping 3
years ago, when Arjo Wiggins Appleton (one of the biggest PCB polluters)
first proposed to cap instead of dredge. The agencies ignored us.
1. Caps are Experimental Such caps have never been successfully proven to last in any flowing river the size of our Fox River. Anyone who watches “Storm Stories” on the Weather Channel knows the intense power of rivers in flood stage.
While it’s true that caps have been placed over PCB hotspots very recently in the Duwamish River in Washington State near Seattle, and also in Duluth Harbor, those caps haven't yet survived the test of time or a multitude of storms and floods.
The DNR and corporations have been misleading the news media and claiming that a 1992 cap in the Duwamish River has been successful. The truth is that the 1992 cap was in Elliot Bay (quieter waters) nearby and it has not be studied thoroughly in the brief 14 years it has been in place. Worse yet, a cap was placed in the Duwamish River only 3 years ago, but a recent study has discovered extensive PCB contamination all around the cap site from external sources. (In other words, that cap didn’t address all the PCB sources.) Because of this complication, it will be impossible to tell whether that cap is leaking or not.
As the noted astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Common sense and centuries of experience with shoreline and river erosion tell us that these weak caps will not last. The corporations, DNR and EPA have NOT provided evidence to the contrary. Their claims are based on seriously flawed mathematical predictions, not actual caps which have lasted for more than a few years in our type of river.
2. Weak Caps In many areas, the plan calls for just a layer of sand, often less than a foot thick, over the top of areas that have been partially dredged. Any child who has built sand castles knows that sand is washed away easily. In other areas, the plan calls for somewhat thicker caps, armoured with rocks, but even this is only a bandaid approach.
3. Not Built for Worst Case Scenario According to this plan, the Fox River caps would be built to withstand only a 100 year flood. [This is a flood intensity predicted by statistics to occur once every 100 years, but it could hit during any year, or several times in one century.]
When a so-called 200 or 500 year storm hits, the caps could be breached or washed away entirely, exposing and recirculating dangerous levels of PCBs, mercury and other toxic chemical contaminants.
Keep in mind that a 200 year storm could happen tomorrow and a 500 year storm could happen just 10 years from now. These are only statistical predictions based on averages. Real life is often less neat and tidy. We’ve all experienced a run of bad luck or Murphy’s Law [“If anything can go wrong, it will.”] Why should the Fox River be considered lucky after all the abuse it has already taken?
4. 100 Year Flood Improperly Calculated The plan used a maximum river flow of 24,200 cubic feet per second as the basis for a 100 year flood, but studies have recorded a recent flood flow of 33,800 cubic feet/second on the Fox River. The scientists have only about a century of data to work with, yet they chose to declare the 33,800 cubic feet/second to be much less frequent than it may actually be.
Also, climate change could drastically alter rainfall, storm and river flow data, making any predictive effort impossible. Some climate change models show our region getting more water and more storms than in the past.
5. Punch-through Strength Inadequate The analysis performed for the caps only examined the pressure resulting from human footsteps overtop the cap. How can we take their proposal seriously?
The planners ignored the obvious potential for huge wayward ships to scrape across a cap. Or human mistakes involving heavy construction near, through or on the caps 100 years from now. Or large tree limbs, boulders or other heavy objects rammed repeatedly into the caps during extreme flooding. Or floods in the spring during ice break-up causing powerful ice shoves across the caps.
The planners discussed, but did not incorporate, a well-known phenomenon called “fractile ice” which occurs during fall and winter freeze-up. Before the river surface freezes solid, small ice particles form and are circulated throughout the river vertically as well as horizontally. These ice particles are sharp and hard, and greatly increase the erosive power of the river. (like sand-blasting.) Over many decades, the fractile ice will grind away at the cap surfaces, but the planners are ignoring this in their cap design.
6. Groundwater Upwelling When caps are placed over areas where there is significant flow from aquifers into a river, as there is in the Fox River, the pressure from the upwelling groundwater can put pressure on compressed cap materials, potentially compromising the caps’ integrity over time and forcing PCB leakage upwards into the river. The agencies have neglected to address this concern.
7. Scattered Sites Pose Problems The proposed cleanup maps show a multitude of areas the planners consider suitable for capping. The result is a hodgepodge of sites to be dredged, capped or left alone. Many capped sites would be surrounded by dredged areas. Will taller “islands” of capped sites be sticking up from surrounding sediments? Wouldn’t this make the caps more vulnerable to erosion?
How will future people remember where all these sites are 200 years from now? Consider how much has changed in the United States in the past 200 years. Can we truly guess what civilization will be like then, and whether our descendents will be capable or willing to maintain and repair the caps? Where will they get the money, fuel and materials?
8 . Monitoring is Too Brief
The plan includes only 40 years of monitoring of the cap integrity, but
the caps need to last more than 200 years. The caps will only become
weaker with time, and PCBs may migrate up through the cap slowly.
If a monitoring schedule isn’t maintained, won’t people begin to forget
about the caps?
9. Corporations Released from Liability, but Taxpayers Hooked If the governments accept this plan as written, they will require the Corporations to pay for the capping work as it proceeds or they may even accept a lump payment from the Corporations in advance for the work. Once the agencies decide the full sum has been provided, they will issue a legal release letter stating that the Corporations have no further financial obligations. We’ve heard that the Corporations prefer the advance lump-sum method because it would give them certainty and a clear endpoint. But this liability release puts taxpayers at risk, because when the caps fail, the corporations can’t be forced to fix the mess and the costs will be dumped on the public. Worse yet, because so much new, bulky material has been added to the hotspots, any remedial attempts to remove the failing caps and hotspots will be much more difficult and expensive. It would be far better to get the PCBs out of the river now, treat the sediments, and be done with the whole issue permanently.
10. New Sources Neglected The plan doesn't do enough to stop significant new river inputs of PCBs from urban stormwater run-off, leaking shoreline landfills like Arrowhead Park (a toxic PCB papermill sludge dump in Neenah on the shore of Little Lake Butte des Morts), widespread sludge landspreading from contaminated wastewater and sewage treatment plants, and other continuing PCB sources. Until those sources are shut off, the new contaminants will just recontaminate our “clean” river.
11. Renard Isle Ignored A large mass of PCBs is contained in Renard Isle, offshore from Bay Beach Amusement Park. This old sediment disposal island leaks like a sieve, is uncapped, and will take millions of dollars to remediate. Brown County taxpayers should not get stuck with this remediation work. It's clearly the polluters' responsibility, as part of this PCB cleanup plan.
12. Bay Sediments Ignored The agencies brag that they’ve taken 10,000 sediment samples at more than 1,300 locations in the 7 miles of river between the De Pere Dam and the mouth. But as we pointed out a few years ago, they’ve taken only about 50 poorly distributed samples of poorer quality in the first 7 miles of the lower Bay just beyond the mouth of the river (and many of those unsupervised samples were taken by biased corporate consultants.) The agencies have used the biased corporate data and their own lack of data to claim there are no PCB hotspots worth cleaning up in the Bay, but they deliberately avoided sampling particularly suspect areas such as deeper pockets in the Inner Bay south of Point Au Sable and behind Renard Isle along Bay Beach.
13. Lack of ANY Detoxification Treatment The DNR and EPA are protecting the corporations from their responsiblity to treat and breakdown any of the toxic contaminants (PCBs, mercury, dioxin, arsenic, etc.) in the sediments, despite clear preferences for permanent solutions stated in the federal Superfund law.
Clean Water Action Council does not support incineration technologies such as the so-called “Minergy Melter” or “Vitrification” process, because it will generate new toxic air pollution in the Fox River Valley , including dioxins and mercury emissions.
Our technical advisor, Dr. Peter deFur, has researched a variety of technologies for us and favors a process called “Soil Washing” by a company called Biogenesis. This process uses a variety of surfactants and solvents to strip toxic chemicals out of sediments and break them down. It leaves a non-toxic soil residue which can be landspread or used in construction projects. It eliminates the need for landfills. It does not involve burning, so no dioxins or mercury vapors are created. Biogenesis recently completed successful pilot tests on the Hudson River PCB sediments in New York State, and may well receive contracts to do full-scale cleanup work there. We deserve similar efforts here on the Fox River.
14. Money Trumps Public Health, River Options, and Common Sense This major plan weakening is clearly based on money, not science, the protection of public health, or the preservation of public rights in the river. The DNR and Corporations brag in the news media that the changes will save them $190 million dollars. What they don’t explain is the never-ending high costs for monitoring and maintenance of the corporations’ private toxic landfills in our river, or our lost future opportunities in the river due to the untouchable new obstructions which will be created by them.
They also refuse to acknowledge the likelihood that the caps will fail and require extremely expensive and repeated PCB cleanups in the coming decades and centuries following major storms or floods. It’s a classic case of penny wise and dollar foolish.
15. No Mention of Weakening on Little Lake Butte des Mort. In our discussions with DNR and EPA staff, it’s clear they intend to also weaken the PCB cleanup effort already underway on Little Lake Butte des Mort at the the head of the Lower Fox River, in Neenah, Menash and Appleton. The Lake is actually a flowage of the Fox River just north of Lake Winnebago.
So far the cleanup there has been successful. The contractors hired by the corporations have completed three seasons of dredging, dewatering and landfilling. Hauling of sediment will continue thru March next year. In water work had been expected to resume in the spring.
The cleanup has now removed approximately 2/3 of the total mass of PCBs targeted for this project, which is often referred to as OU1. The contractors concentrated their efforts on the areas that contained the greatest amounts of PCBs. (For more information, visit the project website: www.littlelakecleanup.com)
What the agencies aren’t telling the public is that they expect to drastically alter the final 3-4 years of the Lake cleanup to cap many of the remaining PCB contaminated sediments and walk away. The old plan required that all the contaminated sediment be removed from the river.
A few months ago, we were told to expect that the Dec. 5th public hearing and comment period, and the proposed plan, would include a formal amendment to the Record of Decision for Little Lake Butte des Morts. Instead, they seem ready to just make the changes quietly without alerting the public or allowing any public input.
15. Where is the Cap Material Coming From? Will we see extensive rock, gravel and sand pits destroying upland wildlife habitat, scenery and/or public quality of life? Will this generate a lot more truck traffic? Will the agencies simply declare contaminated sand dredged from the northern end of the shipping channel “clean” and allow it to be used for capping? Won’t this simply perpetuate the contamination and cause more rapid filling of the shippingchannel as the sand caps erode? Who will pay for the extra dredging requirements on the shipping channel?
16. Phony Public Involvement Our government agencies maintain several staff people, at great expense, whose responsiblity is supposedly to keep the public informed and involved in this Fox River cleanup. In reality, they are public relations propagandists determined to sell the governments’ decisions to a naive public. Disinformation is common (such as the false claims about successful caps on the Duwamish River.)
For 3.5 years, the public has been excluded from the technical and planning debates which can reveal so much key information. This means the debate was one-sided and dominated by the Corporations and politically manipulated government agency staff. Don’t blame the DNR or federal EPA for this. The state is the lead decision-maker on this cleanup and Governor Jim Doyle has direct control over DNR actions. Doyle has a very close relationship with the paper corporations, just like Tommy Thompson did.
Clean Water Action Council has repeatedly asked that its Technical Advisor, hired with an EPA Technical Advisory Grant, be allowed to participate, or at least observe key discussions, but we were told this would “cause delays” and could not be allowed. (Heaven forbid that our advisor might raise concerns about technical flaws and force them to rethink their plan.)
The corporations and Gov. Doyle have now made their compromises and cut their deals. The public has been given less than 30 days to digest several inches of technical documents as preparation for the public hearings.
For More Information
Copies of the Basis of Design report, proposed plan, and other site-related documents are available for review at the:
• Brown County Library, 515 Pine St., Green Bay, WI
The reports are also available on the DNR's website:
An administrative record file, which contains the information upon which the selection of the cleanup plan will be based has also been placed at the DNR Bureau of Watershed Management, 2nd Floor, 101 S. Webster St., Madison, WI; DNR Northeast Region Office, 2984 Shawano Ave., Green Bay, WI; and the EPA Records Center, 7th Floor, 77 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL.
Dr. Peter de Fur Hired as CWAC Technical Advisor
Clean Water Action Council has hired Dr. Peter deFur as a science advisor during this stage of the Fox River clean up, with funding provided by the U.S. EPA under the Superfund Technical Assistant Grant program. He is providing detailed technical analysis of the government background documents and plans for amending the Fox River Record of Decision.
All of Dr. deFur’s contributions will be posted on here on FoxRiverWatch.
The federal law provides the grants to allow citizens to hire technical advisors to assist in analyzing technical information presented by the government for cleaning up the river. The money is also provided for distributing this information to the public. We’re required to do detailed federal accounting, many hours of paperwork, and contracts. We are also required to provide a 20% match, generally in the form of our volunteer time.
The idea is to help "level the playing field" and provide an independent source of expert opinion for citizens who face confusing and highly technical arguments paid for by Fox River polluters, or presented by biased government officials. The polluters have hired world-class scientists to argue their position. They’ve also hired public relations consultants and have enormous budgets for TV advertising, mass mailings, programs and newspaper ads. At the same time, they’ve had several lobbyists and law firms working regularly at the local, state and federal level for decades. Concerned citizens are at a distinct disadvantage.
Background on Dr. Peter deFur
Dr. Peter L. deFur provides consulting services to federal, state and local agencies and private groups. Dr. deFur is chair of the Board of the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN), President of the Association for Science in the Public Interest, and recently completed a term on the National Research Council Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology (BEST). Dr. deFur is an Affiliate Associate Professor in the Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University where he conducts research on environmental health and ecological risk assessment.
Dr. deFur received B.S. and M.A. degrees in Biology from the College
of William and Mary, in Virginia, and a Ph.D. in Biology (1980) from the
University of Calgary, Alberta. He was a postdoctoral fellow in neurophysiology
in the Department of Medicine at the University of Calgary. Dr. deFur
held faculty positions at George Mason University and Southeastern Louisiana
University before joining the staff of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)
in Washington, DC. At EDF, deFur was involved in policy issues that
include habitat preservation and quality, wetlands regulations, water quality
analysis and risk assessment.
Dr. deFur has extensive experience in risk assessment and ecological risk assessment regulations, guidance and policy. He served on the NAS/NRC Risk Characterization Committee that released its report, Understanding Risk in June 1996. Dr. deFur has served on numerous scientific reviews of EPA ecological and human health risk assessments, including the assessment for the WTI incinerator in Ohio and EPA’s Ecological Risk Assessment Guidelines. deFur served on EPA’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Advisory Committee (EDSTAC), and presently serves on the task force implementing EDSTAC recommendations.
Dr. deFur was appointed to BEST of the National Academy of Sciences -National Research Council in 1996. He is on the Board of Directors of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, and peer reviewer for several professional journals. He has published numerous peer reviewed articles, invited perspectives and review articles for the public on subjects ranging from habitat quality to wetlands, toxic chemical and risk assessment.
Dr. deFur has experience in the area of endocrine disrupting chemicals, specifically dioxin and related compounds and comparative endocrinology. During the past ten years, deFur has been extensively involved in scientific, regulatory and policy concerning the generation, release and discharge of dioxin related compounds. He has published a number of papers on regulation and policy aspects of these compounds, considered in many ways prototype endocrine disruptors. Dr. deFur has been extensively involved in the EPA reassessment of dioxin since 1991.
To learn more about Dr. deFur's consulting firm please visit his website:
CONTENT BY: Rebecca Leighton Katers
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