|Written by Jacob Croonenberghs,
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Cass Lake, the location of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation as well as the St. Regis Paper Company Superfund Site, held a public meeting in June concerning cleanup options for contaminated soil. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a meeting at the Cass Lake-Bena Elementary school to discuss their plan for cleaning up the former wood treatment area,and to listen to public comments about the ecological problem that has been a cause for health concern in the area for over 25 years.
From 1958 until 1985, the St. Regis Paper Company treated wood with chemicals such as Dioxin, pentachlorophenol, (PCP) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to increase the longevity of its wood products. The consequence of using these chemicals, however, was the exposure of the areas, its soils, and its facilities to substances that have been shown to cause cancer in humans.
Over thirty families live near the site, and the area was placed on the EPA's Superfund National Priorities List on September 14th, 1984. The Superfund is a government program to help clean up uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. The EPA's commitment to cleaning these sites involves work from the agency as well as compelling responsible parties to perform site cleanups or reimbursements.
In 1985, then-owner Champion International agreed to clean up the site, removing soil and forming well extraction points to filter out contaminated water, among other measures. However, concerns about the safety of the area continued to be raised; contamination of the ground soil, as well as testing the water supply nearby, showed above average levels of contamination.
In 1995 the EPA became the leading agency responsible with cleaning up the site. Additional sampling was conducted in 2001, 2003, and 2004. It was determined that an additional cleanup plan was required. In the interim, the EPA ordered International Paper Co. to apply a three inch layer of uncontaminated soil to the area, apply dust suppressants to area roads, as well as clean the houses of nearby residencies.
The EPA oversaw the removal of over 3,900 tons of contaminated soil. In 2008 the EPA concluded there were still risks to workers, residents, and the environment near the site of the former wood treatment plant. The proposed cleanup options were discussed, and a meeting was set to evaluate the risks.
The public meeting in Cass Lake on June 23rd was the EPA's effort to inform the public about the cleanup option they are planning on using. Currently, the EPA plans to remove up to two feet of soil from the contaminated areas, place one foot of clean soil on top to replace the removed soil, repave industrial areas/roads on or near industrial areas of the site, monitor surface water in the nearby forested wetland, and remove the contaminated soil to an off-site location.
However, the decisions of the meeting are not final. The EPA is also open to public comments on the site. Running from June 23rd to July 21st, the EPA will take the public's comments and review their concerns.
Since 1984, the EPA has assessed the levels of contamination in the areas soil and ground water, monitoring for unusually high levels of Dioxin, PCP, and PAH's. They have worked with the Leech Lake Tribal Government as well as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to agree upon a solution to the hazardous materials that affect the Cass Lake community.
The EPA is interested in community opinions on the procedure of the cleanup for the site. The agency encourages thoughts and opinions on the matter to be sent to: Don de Blasio, Superfund Community Involvement Coordinator. The address is US EPA Region 5, 77 W. Jackson Blvd. (SI-7J), Chicago, IL 60604-3590. Or email:
Based on the information received, the agency may modify or change the cleanup plan under consideration. Or visit the website: www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/ stregis.html.