Contamination from decades ago still haunts owner of Fredonia site
The Ozaukee County Board voted unanimously last week to support a grant request that could ultimately help clean up a tainted Village of Fredonia property.
County supervisors gave their support to a site assessment grant request submitted by Phillips Plastics under the federal government’s Brownfields Revitalization Act in hopes of remedying a decades-old pollution problem at a property it owns at 600 S. Milwaukee St.
The 5.3-acre site is just north of the village’s industrial park.
If the grant is approved, the company could receive as much as $100,000 of federal money channeled through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to assess the level of contamination on the site.
The company must match the amount of government funding, and the request must come from a public body, in this case the county. The grant application was initially endorsed by the county’s Administration Committee.
“No county money is involved. We are essentially just the go-between in this request,” said Kathleen Cady Schilling, the county’s director of economic development.
“In its current condition, the property could never be sold. The thought is that with the state of the economy, this would be an ideal time to correct whatever problem there is on the site so they would be prepared to do whatever they want with it down the road.”
Phillips Plastics finds itself having to wrestle with the ghost of past misdeeds on the property.
Significant levels of tri-chloroethylene (TCE) have been identified in the soil. The colorless, toxic chemical is used to degrease metals and is also a solvent for oils and waxes, a refrigerant, a fumigant and is used in dry cleaning.
When the company pursued an initial site assessment through the Village of Fredonia in 2004, Phillips Plastics representatives told officials their company had never used the chemical in its operations.
Still, the company confirmed the presence of “an amoeba-shaped plume” of TCE that was generally confined to soil under paved areas.
The contamination is linked to operations on the property long before Phillips acquired it in 1985.
Phillips bought the property from Graphics Technology, but the TCE contamination is believed to have occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the property was owned by H.V.C., Inc. (High Voltage Capacitors).
Phillips did not conduct an environmental assessment of the property prior to the purchase, and thus was unaware of the previous contamination on the site.
“We did not cause the problem nor contribute to the problem, but we are trying to look for creative strategies for remediation,” said Dan Andersen, corporate safety, health and environmental manager for Phillips Plastics.
“It is sad that the past practices of prior owners are passed along to others, but that’s what we are currently faced with.”
According to the county, Phillips has not used the site since 2000, but has leased the building in recent years. There have been no tenants for the past several years.
The initial brownfields grant, secured through the village, paid for permanent monitoring sites that tracked the flow and source of the TCE.
Although the contamination level on the site was deemed “significant,” the grant request submitted to the county indicated the pollution has not spread into the surrounding groundwater.
The second-phase site assessment grant would be used to raze the building so that the site would be available for redevelopment. Much of the contamination is reportedly under the building.
To move the grant process along, Cady Schilling said, the request was actually forwarded to the DNR prior to County Board approval with the understanding it would be withdrawn if supervisors failed to back the application.
“It is just the first step in the process, but we consider it an important step in encouraging future development at this site,” she said.
“I believe it is going to take a team approach to remedy this situation, and I believe we have some great key members who support the situation,” Andersen said of the cooperation the company has received from the village, county and DNR.
Andersen noted Phillips has a strong environmental record, recently receiving the Wisconsin Business Friend of the Environment stewardship award. All of its manufacturing facilities are ISO 14001 certified and its manufacturing facilities are Green Tier participants.
BENEATH A NEW blanket of snow, soil on the Phillips Plastic property on South Milwaukee Street in Fredonia is contaminated with TCE. The company is seeking a brownfields grant to clean up the site. Photo by Mark Jaeger