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In The News: Give A Voice, Gain A Victory

Hey, ecoSPEARS readers! This week’s news blurb is going to cover three articles you may not have seen otherwise due to less broad media coverage in the previous week. As with each of these weekly posts, our goal here is to keep you – our reader – as up to date as possible with environmental news solely for the sake of self-education. This week, however, we’re going to be covering four articles instead of the normal three we believe each article mentioned is worthy of and deserves wider coverage – especially one in which community involvement resulted in massive cleanup initiatives in their town! Now, on with the news.

Our first article from the Associated Press comes from Rockford, Michigan where the US EPA is resuming an investigation for contamination at a former Michigan tannery five years after placing the site under state control. Contamination at the site is reported to originate after the prior owner, Wolverine World Wide, “used chemicals to waterproof shoe leather,” and was requested to conduct sampling of soil and groundwater samples at the property.

Site of the Wolverine Tannery in West Michigan

The site has been open for public use as an event space since 2010 and witnesses have even reported children, “swimming in the downtown river where ‘sediment and water contamination has been documented.” The site is known to be contaminated with high levels of arsenic, lead, and PFAS. Wolverine spokespersons have said the company is cooperating with federal and state officials to begin fieldwork testing at the site again this summer. The tannery has previously been considered for classification as a Superfund site – a possibility which has not yet been ruled out due to community involvement and outcry.

Southwest of the Wolverine tannery, near the Illinois/Indiana border, the EPA has also reported finding high levels of lead contamination at an East Chicago neighborhood. An abandoned smelter in the area which, “churned lead, arsenic and other heavy metals into the air during most of the last century” is reported to be the source of lead contamination in the area, leading more than two dozen neighborhood yards to yield extremely high levels of brain-damaging lead.

Map of lead sampling and testing in proximity to the site of the abandoned smelter.

Some 10,000 residents live within a mile of the old smelter site, with some reports claiming residents asking for aid in environmental testing and cleanup in their neighborhood as early as the 1980s. 30 homes were sampled last year with 25 showing lead concentrations above the standard of 400 ppm. Of those 25, 9 possessed lead concentrations above 1,200 ppm and one possessing levels up to 2,760 ppm. EPA has allocated $1.7M to remove contaminated soil around the homes in question and is likely to begin removal of the soil after final samples – collected in April – are analyzed and documented.

Returning back to Michigan, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has reportedly loaned the city of Kalamazoo, home of one of the nation’s most prominent and complex Superfund sites, $600,000 to aid in the cleanup of a vacant paper mill in the city. The paper mill, which is hoping to be redeveloped as a Brownfield site, is expected to become a space for 160 Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services staff members.

The vacant paper mill in Kalamazoo, MI which will be turned into offices in clinics for County Health Services.

On top of the $600,000 loan, PlazaCorp has invested $9M into the redevelopment and move for County Health to help better address needs of underserved areas of the Edison neighborhood. The loan is allocated for the transportation and disposal of PCB-contaminated soil at the vacant mill – part of the larger overall Kalamazoo River Superfund site.

For our last article coverage of the week, we return to Suffield, Connecticut where the town has recently held talks to address ongoing contamination issues at its residential Kent Memorial Library. This previous Tuesday, May 8th, Suffield residents “overwhelmingly approved a $58.3 million town budget for 2018-19, which includes a $1.5 million intended for the abatement of…PCBs” at the library. A temporary library has been established for town residents since 2014 when PCB contamination was found in building materials, including caulk and paint, at the original library.

Kent Memorial Library in Suffield, CT where PCB remediation costs are estimated to be $1.45M

The recent meeting in Suffield saw an increase of $500,000 – from $1M to $1.5M – to address PCB contamination and removal from the library property since last month’s meeting on the same matter. Town residents and officials have expressed relief in working together to find a solution to aid in the revitalization of the historic library.

And that’s all for this week, folks! Be sure to tune in every week for coverage of the prior week’s environmental news highlights. And as always, thanks for reading.

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For more information about the agencies and organizations mentioned, please click the following links:


Michigan DEQ

Kalamazoo Superfund Site

Brownfield Initiative

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