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Grass Roots: PCB contamination found at embattled Madison-Kipp Corp.

Grass Roots: PCB contamination found at embattled Madison-Kipp Corp.

Madison-Kipp Corp. file photo

Madison-Kipp Corp.

Traces of a suspected carcinogen not previously recorded on the grounds of the Madison-Kipp Corp. plant on the city's east side were discovered during digging for a system to extract soil vapors of another industrial contaminant that has been leaching on to neighboring properties.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources now wants to know why the company did not follow rules for reporting the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination and is setting up a mandatory schedule for the company to investigate and clean it up. 

The DNR hand-delivered a letter to Kipp Vice President Mark Meunier Thursday demanding that the company hand over information on the PCB contamination within 24 hours. The letter also sets a mandatory April 23 meeting with company officials and sets out a schedule to receive information on the extent of the contamination, and a 90-day deadline to complete cleanup.

The PCBs -- at 110 parts per million, twice the level at which federal law requires cleanup -- were discovered along the northeast border of the Kipp property, near the back property lines of houses along South Marquette Street.

The contamination was discovered while a Kipp contractor was digging a trench to install a device to extract soil vapors contaminated with another chemical -- perchloroethylene or PCE.

PCE vapor contamination of soils on residential properties neighboring Kipp last year led to a federal lawsuit seeking damages for loss of property value. Those plaintiffs now are seeking court certification of a class action suit against Kipp that could include all the properties that abut the factory site.

The DNR letter sent Thursday says that the longer the PCB contamination is left in the environment, the farther it can spread and the more it may cost to clean up.

"Quick action may lessen damage to your property and neighboring properties and reduce your costs in investigating and cleaning up the contamination," the letter reads.

Meunier said Thursday there was no data indicating the presence of PCBs off the Kipp site.  He said that testing for the contaminant would continue.

PCB is a probable carcinogen that was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in the late 1970s, say DNR officials. It once was used as a lubricant in transformers and its presence is common on industrial sites.

Meunier says that Kipp notified the DNR of the contamination. But in the letter to Kipp, DNR officials say that a March 26 email notification of the contamination did not follow legal requirements, that other information was not sent to the DNR as requested, and that Kipp failed to respond to a request for information from the state Department of Justice.

“The Department cannot emphasize enough the serious nature of this situation," reads the letter signed by DNR remediation team supervisor Linda Hanefeld. "It is imperative that you provide the state and the public with the information both DNR and DOJ have requested. The fact is, there is heightened neighborhood concern about your site and this contamination was found near the property line. We hope your lack of response is not an indication of a lack of urgency.”

"We don’t think the response has been as speedy as we would have liked," Darsi Foss, brownfields section chief, said in an interview. "We want them to move expeditiously to deal with the situation."

Foss said it is not now known how close to neighboring properties the PCB contamination has spread because the earth that was tested -- as required for disposal in a landfill -- had been collected from a large area.

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Related to this story

A federal judge has granted residents of 34 East Side homes class action status in a lawsuit against Madison-Kipp Corp. Residents of those homes on South Marquette and Waubesa streets will be able to proceed collectively in litigation following Judge Barbara Crabb's Monday ruling.