Residents File Petition Over PCBs

Posted Dec. 02, 2003

Vitrification preferred over proposed landfill method

By Jeff Bollier
of The Northwestern

The town of Vinland and seven other municipalities are formally asking state and federal regulators to adopt an alternative method for disposing of contaminated sediments from Little Lake Butte des Morts.

Chuck Koehler, the town of Vinland’s attorney, filed a petition with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in November requesting the agencies change their decision to dispose of Fox River sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in a landfill.

The petition and five affidavits submitted to the United States Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin have the support of Winnebago County, Vinland and the towns of Winneconne, Nekimi, Oshkosh, Neenah, Clayton and Winchester.

“I think it’s a pretty strong showing of public support for the issues Vinland is presenting,” Koehler said. “There’s certainly time for this decision to be changed, in our opinion, because they haven’t even started extracting (PCBs) yet.”

A district court judge must review and give final approval to the cleanup and financing plan agreed to by the EPA, DNR and paper companies responsible for the contamination.

“We wanted to be on record with our opinion wherever we could be,” Len Leverence, Winnebago County’s solid waste director, said.

The petition asks the DNR and EPA to recommend a process that melts the contaminated sediments at high temperatures and destroys the PCBs, called vitrification, instead of dumping them in a landfill.

Leverence, one of the five people to give sworn affidavits to the court, said he’s not sure if the DNR and EPA would reconsider their decision to store the sediments in a landfill.

“How good of a chance we have is hard to say because it’s in the court’s hands. But, we’re bringing it to the attention of the court because we believe there’s a final process out there,” Leverence said. “We believe vitrification is a better process because it actually eliminates PCBs from the environment instead of storing them in a landfill.”

Greg Hill, a DNR implementation coordinator project, said the EPA and DNR will respond to the petition together.

He said since the cleanup project falls under the EPA’s Superfund program, it would not be easy to change the decision to use a landfill.

“My understanding is nothing under Superfund is easy. It took better than three years to get the first records of decision (on the Fox River) done,” Hill said. “In order to re-open those records of decision, we’d have to go through the process again, provide a timeframe for public comment, respond to those comments and determine whether proposed change is a good idea.”

“I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do,” Hill added.

PCBs were released into the river from the mid-1950s until 1971 as a byproduct of the manufacture and recycling of carbonless copy paper.

The long-lasting chemicals have been linked to birth defects in wildlife and are considered a threat to human health.

Koehler still was hopeful the decision could be reversed.

“My perception is these municipalities are hopeful the DNR and EPA, as environmental watchdogs, will take the initiative to eliminate these wastes rather than allowing them to remain in a landfill for the next 800 years,” he said.

Jeff Bollier: (920) 426-6688 or