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Great Lakes Article:

Final Fox River cleanup plan detailed

Cost of removing PCBs in sediment: $310 million

By JO SANDIN
Article courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Oct. 1, 2001

Dredging, capping, landfilling and even an experimental technique for melting PCB-polluted sediments into glass all are part of a long-awaited final cleanup plan for the Fox River expected to be unveiled today in Green Bay.

The proposed $310 million plan calls for the removal of about 7.25 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment containing more than 64,200 pounds of PCBs from the lower Fox River.

The plan divides the river into four sections, three of which would be dredged to remove the contamination, according to the DNR's Web site. The fourth area, between Appleton and Little Rapids, would not be dredged. Instead, the PCBs levels would be monitored in that part of the river.

The plan also calls for removing the water and stabilizing the dredged sediment from the river, and disposing of it off-site at licensed solid-waste disposal facilities, including a possible new disposal facility in the Fox River Valley.

The proposal, if carried out, would result in the cleanup of sediments that would lead directly to the protection of human health and the environment, the DNR said.

Environmental organizations, government agencies, tribal representatives and residents all have been waiting for a plan to clean up the contaminated river since 1999, when a preliminary feasibility study was released to heated public criticism.

Last year, 10,000 residents of northeastern Wisconsin signed a petition calling for "a strong cleanup plan that fully protects the health of humans and wildlife."

DNR officials think the latest plan does just that.

"DNR and EPA's goal is for the cleanup action to result in the removal of all fish consumption advisories, and the protection of the fish and wildlife that use the Fox River and Green Bay," the DNR said on its Web site. "The agencies believe this proposed plan will be protective of human health and the environment, provide long-term effectiveness, comply with state and federal environmental regulations, be implementable and cost effective."

The plan does not detail how the paper mills will pay for the cleanup project.

Appleton Papers Inc. reached an agreement with environmental officials in June to put up $40 million over the next four years to begin paying for its portion of the cleanup. DNR spokesman Greg Swanson said negotiations with the other six mills are continuing.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are a family of 209 chemicals that have been shown to pollute the food chain. PCBs were used for years in making carbonless copy paper. The substances were discharged into the river by two mills making the paper and by five that recycled such paper and were discharged into the river along with other mill wastes.

PCBs accumulate in organisms eaten by invertebrates eaten by waterfowl and fish, and eventually in humans who eat the fowl and fish.

According to Rebecca Katers, executive director of the Clean Water Action Council in Green Bay, scientific studies by private and public researchers have shown that PCBs can damage the immune system, reduce intelligence and change children's behavior.

Health advisories warning of dangers from consuming too many meals of PCB-contaminated fish have been issued for years.

Comments made earlier this year by DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell do much to explain the importance of achieving agreement on a remedy.

At that time, he said: "This is one of the largest and most complex cleanups of PCB-contaminated sediment in the world. Several states have shied away from pursuing this type of cleanup project because of difficulties that are involved."

With 24 paper and pulp mills on the 39 miles of the Fox River between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay, the area has the highest concentration of such industrial operations in the world.

The DNR and EPA will take public comments on the proposed cleanup plan through Dec. 7 and will hold two public meetings on the proposal before then. After receiving input from the public, the agencies will develop a final plan.

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