A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency technical adviser says more testing is needed to ensure that air in the Goodman Community Center on Madison’s East Side isn’t being contaminated by hazardous vapors from an underground chemical plume that has been traced to the adjacent Madison-Kipp plant.
While there is no evidence of the vapors in Goodman, the level of testing currently required by state regulators isn’t enough, said Lenny Siegel, a vapor intrusion expert paid by EPA to provide technical advice to local communities.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources spokesman Jim Dick said ground water monitoring near the Goodman center hasn’t indicated any need for vapor testing in the community center.
In fact, as some monitoring wells found less contamination in shallow ground water in recent years, the DNR has been requiring less testing for toxic vapors around the Madison-Kipp plant, and less ground water monitoring, Dick said.
The underground plume consists of industrial solvents including the likely human carcinogen tetrachloroethylene, or PCE. The plume also carries trichloroethylene, or TCE, a solvent associated with health hazards that include cardiac birth defects in children whose mothers were exposed to the compound relatively briefly.
The solvents were found decades ago around the Madison-Kipp aluminum die-casting plant. More recently other pollutants posing serious health hazards — polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs — were detected. A 2012 state lawsuit seeking penalties is pending as Madison-Kipp conducts several cleanup efforts under state and federal scrutiny.
In 2013, the company settled neighbors’ PCE lawsuits by agreeing to pay $7.2 million and install devices in homes east and west of the plant to stop vapors from rising out of shallow ground water and entering the dwellings.
But the DNR never required vapor testing in the Goodman center just north of Madison-Kipp because shallow ground water flows from the plant to the south-southwest, Dick said.
And, said Brynn Bemis, a hydrogeologist in the city engineering department, monitoring wells have indicated that contaminants were sinking into deeper parts of the aquifer, making vapor releases unlikely.
Siegel, however, said the shallow aquifer near the plant sometimes flows north depending on factors such as lake levels and pumping by municipal drinking water wells. He referred to test results showing PCE detections at a monitoring well on the plant’s northern property line.
The DNR’s conclusion that contaminants are sinking deeper is an extrapolation based on too little monitoring from too few wells, Siegel said.
Siegel pointed to the lone shallow ground water monitoring well — called MW-26 — on the Goodman Center property. Where it is positioned on the east side of the property could allow contaminants to flow past it undetected to the center building, which stands to the west.
“Even if the area had consistent groundwater flows, MW-26 would not suffice as a sentry well for the Goodman center,” Siegel said. “My concern is that no one has test sampled in the right place.”
A 2016 report from a Madison-Kipp consultant, TRC, shows several wells, including MW-26, that were no longer monitoring shallow ground water after a number of consecutive samples detected no PCE.
But other wells, including one within about 300 feet of the Goodman center, have continued to detect the contaminant.
The DNR’s guidance document on vapor intrusion takes into account several factors to determine if testing is needed. The document calls for vapor testing any time PCE in soil is found within 100 feet of a building. But Siegel said that standard isn’t relevant when the nearest wells are two or three times that distance away.
“DNR does not have the data, resources or will to fully carry out this policy,” Siegel said.
“There is no evidence that there is an imminent risk of vapor intrusion at (the Goodman center or a nearby property the center purchased for future expansion),” Siegel said, “but recent studies in similar climates suggest that significant amounts of sampling — at multiple locations and at many times — must be done to rule out vapor intrusion in industrial areas where chlorinated solvents have been released or even are just known to have been used or stored.”
In addition to his contract with EPA, Siegel directs the nonprofit Center for Public Environmental Oversight and is a member of the city council in Mountain View, California. He said he frequently speaks out, at home and in communities where he consults, in favor of policies to protect people from toxic gases.
Siegel visited Madison in June and talked with neighbors of the plant and city and DNR officials. He also reviewed some of the thousands of government documents on Madison-Kipp that the Madison Environmental Justice Organization has amassed while advocating for stronger protections from health hazards.
Siegel and MEJO board member Jim Powell said the city of Madison should ask the Goodman center to conduct vapor tests.
The city owns the bike path and adjacent land that runs between Madison-Kipp and the center. The city also leases land Madison-Kipp uses as a driveway at the plant.
Mayor Paul Soglin didn’t respond to a request for comment, but MEJO issued a statement quoting three city council members — David Ahrens, Samba Baldeh and Rebecca Kemble — calling for the city to gather more data and develop better strategies on toxic vapors.
Goodman Center director Becky Steinhoff said three soil samples and three water samples from the nearby Madison Brass Works Building, which the center recently purchased, found no TCE, PCE or other contaminants in concentrations exceeding state enforcement standards. Any required cleanup will be done before the property is used, Steinhoff said.
Madison-Kipp president and CEO Tony Koblinski declined to comment on Siegel’s report. The company is pumping out and treating contaminated ground water from deeper underground where the plume appears to have spread farther. The Madison Water Utility has been studying steps to protect drinking water.