Minutes of May 19, 2021 Monthly Meeting

SUMMARY: As you review the minutes below you might note attention was given to moving forward with the assessment of the former railroad siding leading into the Superfund site and also a lot of news from the PBB Leadership Team looking at the efforts to assess human health consequences of exposures. Finally, new business included discussions of possible Superfund revision to reimpose the Superfund tax and to give more attention to responding to human health consequences of exposures.

The meeting recording is available at the following web link with the password below, with timestamps included in minutes:

Meeting Recording: Topic: https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/Hapqvhne2Pq_dXL58eKXydaLF8ACd912qv-d6NHGl1gYAdz794MXweaNv89VyAyi.ywBgagUGj_NPiN2M

Access Passcode: =4Rj!&jy

The meeting began at 6:48 pm via Zoom with Secretary Brittany Fremion as host, with 15-17 participants.

Chairperson Jane Keon called the meeting to order at 7:01 pm.

  1. Additions
  2. Approval of March minutes. [00:01:33] (Ed Lorenz/Liz Braddock)
  3. Treasurer’s Report [00:02:00]: Gary Smith, Treasurer
    1. April 2021
      1. The General Fund Checking balance stands at $5,933.44. The Money Market Account (Oxford Automotive settlement) has $65,080.51. TAG grant money available for the Former Plant Site (FPS) stands at $8,482.26. The Velsicol Burn Pit (VBS) has $48,744.28. Velsicol Burn Pit (VBP) Fund Checking $85.62. The complete reports will be attached to the permanent minutes.
        1. Outstanding bills: March expenses of $280 to CEC and one-hour billable for April phone call with EGLE.
        1. EPA will be in contact about supplemental funds and grants.gov instructions. See further discussion under item 5.C below.
      1. *Reminder about memberships ($5/year) and t-shirts available ($12). Send check to PO Box 172, St. Louis, MI 48880.
  4. Correspondence and Communication [00:06:16]:
    1. Letter to US Representative John Moolenaar regarding funding for Velsicol Burn Pit site. He heads appropriations committee for the House and this was a reminder that St. Louis needs his support. Representative Moolenaar’s communications aide responded.
    1. Thanks to Tom Alcamo, EPA Project Manager, for sending the maps we asked for at the last meeting demarcating OU-3 and OU-4. (Appended)
  5. Old Business [00:08:20]:
    1. Railroad Spur Investigation
      1. Zoom meeting with EGLE and Weston Solutions – Jane Keon
        1. Jane, Gary, Norm, and Jim met with Erik Martinson (EGLE) and Weston’s project manager, Chris Douglas, to discuss the railroad spur, including complications with the railroad company. The CAG wanted to share local knowledge and information that might help support their efforts.
      1. Contact with old Velsicol employee – Jim Hall
        1. Jim connected with a former railroad company employee who spotted railcars inside and outside in St. Louis/MCC. The CAG hopes to have him visit the site to share his memories and help direct their work.
      1. Federal Railway Administration – Jim Hall
        1. Jim recommended that the CAG reach out to the FRA and get their help with the investigation. Ashton Bortz is the contact with the FRA.
      1. Update from EGLE project manager – Erik Martinson [00:12:15]
        1. Ashton Bortz and Erik are in contact with plans to talk before the end of this week. Erik will share the work plan with her.
        1. At the beginning of the month Erik spoke with OJ Lanning, an old railway worker, about his memories and responsibilities tied to the site. OJ didn’t share specific information about the staging of cars, but he did recall that they were lined up along the creamery property. He said there was quite a bit of traffic along the rail lines and that the cars that contained more dangerous chemicals were separated by three car lengths, which is helpful information.
        1. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a change in status with obtaining access. There is hope that with FRA support there will be some action soon.
        1. Discussion
          1. Erik’s conversation with OJ didn’t alter work plan because he couldn’t recall specific locations, but EGLE is comfortable with the scope of work and amount of coverage. If he is able to come out to walk the line then EGLE would consider adding borings based upon his feedback.
          1. Ed’s research into the company suggested that the current railroad company didn’t actually own the property when the contamination happened. Norm suspects that the city took over the land and turned the then-alley into Crawford Street, which is something to investigate further in order to determine ownership. Ed suspects Mid Michigan never owned it because the spur would have been torn up prior to their ownership. Instead, he suspects that CSX Corporation (Jacksonville) tore it out during the 10 year gap between 1980 to 1988, with the assumption it may have been used while the plant was demolished. Erik said Weston researched it and didn’t find anything specific, but does have a contact with CSX.
          1. Gary added that Lions Park, which runs further south beyond Crawford, is leased to the city for a period of 99 years, which represents an example of the kind of arrangements that the city entered into following the plant closure. Jane recommended that Erik connect with the city clerk to help pin down a history of ownership via deeds.
          1. Scott (CEC) further recommended that Erik and Weston connect with the state attorney general for additional support.
          1. Jim also asked if EGLE would be interested in recruiting the help of students at CMU and/or Alma to undertake work related to the sampling.
    1. PBB Leadership Team Update [00:25:48]
      1. Retirement of Health Officer Marcus Cheatham from our local health department – Jane Keon
        1. In addition to working with the PBB Leadership Team, Marcus served on the CAG Executive Committee and has remained an active and interested member, plus he has helped out with the Healthy Pine River Project upstream from the chemical plant. We are grateful for his time and support. He will be sorely missed.
        1. Jane and Bonnie Havlicek will be giving an update on PBB research and make a case for the new Health Officer to also be involved and engaged. They will deliver two presentations, one to the County Commission in July and another to the Board of Health in September.
      1. Other PBB news – Ed Lorenz
        1. There are questions about the official estimates regarding the amount of PBB that was accidentally shipped to Farm Bureau Services. How can there be so many problems with PBB if there was such a relatively small quantity (most sources say 10-20, 50 pound bags)? Ed was tasked with investigating the quantity, based upon the number of sick animals and long-term health results in the state. So what is the right number? The common source for the amount has been MCC and Farm Bureau—those who faced liability and would know the actual total. But Corey Gretch, MDHHS, said that the company’s number was based upon Ed Chen’s book, PBB: An American Tragedy. Joyce Egginton in The Poisoning of Michigan, argued that it’s “impossible to document how many bags,” especially the way that PBB was processed. MCC produced the fire retardant in bulk and shipped it in blocks to a Cincinnati company that crushed it and returned it in bags. Other than the one Battle Creek facility where this tragedy unfolded, there were bags found from Cincinnati Chemical elsewhere. So there were all kinds of shipping errors—one mistake being in May 1973, but there is no reason to believe it couldn’t have happened again. The Thames TV/BBC documentary, “The Poisoning of Michigan,” (1977 US release) says 19 tons of Firemaster were missing with no records of how they were missing. These weren’t small bags. Reflecting on how bad the records were at MCC, even the plant couldn’t tell the difference between 500 or 1,000 lost pounds. So the PBB Leadership Team is in the process of investigating this further. Marcus thought we could work back from exposure data in cattle to get a sense of how much was out in the food chain.
          1. Norm spoke with a Union employee in Ithaca a few years ago who shared that workers were on strike when the shipment was made, and when the union guys got back, a pallet was missing, which is 2,000 pounds. So there’s all kinds of uncertainty and it seems implausible that we’d have so many issues across the state if there were only 10 or 20 bags. Farm Bureau was a big customer of MCC and the chance that this was one time is small.
        1. About two-thirds of the blood results are in and Emory is preparing to share them with participants. There have been delays, of course, due to covid and lab backups, as well as adjustments made because of the delays. 
        1. Discussion
          1. Where is Emory with the funding? They are currently seeking an extension for one of the studies (clinical trial/weight loss study) that was affected by the pandemic, but we’re still waiting on confirmation from NIEHS.         
          1. We do seem to be making more progress with MDHHS, which is good.
          1. When Scott was hired into the DNR he worked with MSU to get a sample of PBB from the lab and transport it to the state laboratory. When he arrived, MSU staff wouldn’t open the sample container in the lab, they had to do it in a special room to prevent cross contamination. Also, in Scott’s research on the effects of PBB in animals, he found that livestock kept getting dosed via feed hoppers due to contact with lingering residue. Ed added that Chen found that MCC sold just under 4 million pounds of PBB at the time of the accident.
    1. Update on TAG Programmatic Merit Review and other TAG changes – Gary Smith [00:44:00]
      1. The CAG will use grants.gov, which requires a lot of information and some training. Gary worked with EPA staff to get the supplemental funding proposal together. The merit review method has shifted based on the application, too. Tom and Diane have pledged to help with the process for the VBP extension using quarterly reports to show how we’re meeting our objectives via outputs. Going forward, we’ll have to sort out the reporting and future quarterly reports to focus on use of TAG money only.
        1. EPA will provide Gary with grant numbers and forms—there aren’t many TAG grants available, only two for our region and the CAG has both. We’ll also get feedback on our reporting. Essentially, EPA wants to help and will lend support.
        1. The merit review language is associated with criteria to determine our eligibility for the grant. Tom sent Gary a checklist that will be used to evaluate grant application to give us an idea of what they are looking for when grant people review materials. EPA will provide Gary with information before the end of this week so we have the instructions.
  6. EGLE Report [00:52:30]:  Erik Martinson, Project Manager
    1. State of progress on bird and nest studies in the ANP
      1. Erik spoke with management to discuss the merit of the bird study and agreed that it needed to evaluate the remedy in the ANP. He has had early conversations with Weston to develop scope and cost estimates to submit for review for funding. He needs the final presentation from Matt Zwernik documenting findings. EGLE plans to complete the follow-up bird study with EPA and Weston in 2022.
      1. Jane reached out to CAG membership to see if anyone had a copy of the presentation, either printed or digital, but seems to recall that Matt never wrote a report because he was working on a publication for peer review and that the material was pending EPA review. Tom may have a copy of a poster presentation he gave at a conference, which he’ll look for. Jim and Jane recalled that the study showed the highest concentration of DDT in wild birds ever found. EGLE will likely enlist the help of volunteers, but Weston will probably have someone visit daily.
  7. EPA Report [01:01:40]: Tom Alcamo, Remedial Project Manager
    1. State of progress in Area 2, Phase 2 of the Velsicol Site – heating cycle
      1. The site is at about 45 degrees centigrade with target of 100 degrees for a minimum of 90 days. The entire treatment system is being powered by green energy sources, over 100 million kilowatt hours via wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. EPA has recovered about 50 pounds; no liquid NAPL yet, which usually happens around 80 degrees. The webpage is running with air and heating data updates. No issues so far.
      1. EPA is working on the contract for the excavation phase and due to the new contracting process, it will likely be among the first submitted using the new mechanism. There are ten contracting firms involved with bid package, which will be distributed this fall for evaluation over the winter. EPA hopes to startup in PSA 1 and 2 in spring 2022. Community members might see Army Corps of Engineers on site because of new requirements that do not allow the company responsible for design to do construction oversight. It’s also possible that another firm might do this work.
      1. EPA is still evaluating contractors for the RD Phase for the rest of the plant site, with work expected to begin in fall. It will include more investigations for upgradient slurry wall, MW 19 boring program, perimeter drain boring program, bathiometric survey in river, groundwater modeling—it’s a big task order hopefully awarded sometime this summer, with a number of preliminary documents in need of review for contracting. Trying to schedule design work with construction.
      1. OU-3 RI being reviewed with release expected by early fall, with proposed plan by mid-2022.
    1. Discussion of OU-3 and OU-4 boundary map (appended). [01:07:55]
    1. Carbon Amendment Study – questions about Final Phase work plan [01:09:40]
      1. EPA implemented the next phase of the study, which has been extended (see appended map with sample grids, green area is the expanded area). Some grids (yellow) were resampled with more carbon added to a few (2%), and in the new area (green) 4% carbon added. Amanda Harwood (Alma) is doing additional work with toxicity in worms and carbon for the study. Some other changes in the green area include tilling the carbon into the soil rather than just spreading it on top. There are six sampling events planned over the next two years. The solid phase microexctraction work is ongoing.
    1. Start date for animal/insect collections in OU-4 — In June or July, EPA will begin a multiyear study further downstream in floodplains, funding for which is secured for the next two years. More information forthcoming. The human health risk is minimal here, with this being primarily an ecological issue.
    1. VBP Funding — No updates on VBP funding, still waiting on action from federal level. Tom estimates that there are 40 to 60 sites in the backlog that still need funding.
    1. Discussion
      1. Clarification on RD investigation. The RD is really expensive and depended upon construction schedule, so it’s funded via pipeline budget with several remedy components. That’s the nature of the Velsicol Plant Site. So for example, hopeful ISTT ends in fall and excavation phase begins next year, which is at least a two-year process, so for 2022-2023 PS1 and 2, and design for barrier wall and groundwater trench needed. Some of these investigations fall in line with this work, such as the MW 19 work, to determine if we need a new DNAPL groundwater collection trench in the river, which might include a series of borings in that area. The perimeter drain encircling the site drains the shallow outwash to an elevation below the river, so a boring program along the profile of the perimeter drain will help us determine what we may come across when we construct it. A bathiometric survey in the river is needed for the downgradient barrier wall and we need to continue the investigation of the upgradient slurry wall. Much of this also needs groundwater modeling.
      1. Further discussion of VBP funding once the plant site is completed. Work revolves around three remedy components, and preparation of site includes a power source, removal of ash piles, road construction, and other site prep work that would cost 5-7 million. Sites are funded “worst first,” with many in the cue. EPA is hopeful to get some infrastructure funding for this prep work.
      1. Ecological study (insects/small animals) work plan for the carbon amendment study is being reviewed and will be released by the end of the month.
  8. New Business [01:26:50]
    1. Discussion on Superfund Reform – Ed Lorenz
      1. Ed has been collaborating over the past few months on work related to the Superfund legislation. There have been recent federal hearings (US House Energy and Commerce, Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, chaired by Paul Tonto, NY, with David McKinley, WV, as ranking member) about the reinstatement of the Superfund Tax, which is included in the infrastructure bill. The rationale is tied to environmental justice and climate change, such as the dangers of enhanced flooding that specifically mentioned the Velsicol Sites. In addition, it includes proposals for funding for human health research and clinical responses, and revisions that would be more flexible with site boundaries (i.e. is Kalkaska burial site an extension/part of our site?) because exposure spread to a lot of places. 
        1. Michigan Members of the committee include Debbie Dingell (Ann Arbor), Fred Upton (SW Michigan), and Tim Walberg (SE/Central Michigan)
        1. The May 13th hearings on the “Clean Futures Act” included witnesses who spoke about risks of flooding, environmental insurance, and healthcare funding as part of Superfund.
        1. Ed thinks the CAG should get involved, around the following issues:
          1. Should Congress reinstate the Superfund Tax?
          1. Should site boundaries include farms or communities where people consumed PBB?
          1. Should there be  a clinically focused human health component to support PBB health research? 
      1. Current Superfund Human Health Institutions include ATSDR, US DHHS, and NIEHS, which provide funding for research and responses to large scale contaminations — but this isn’t a personal response that addresses the needs of individuals in affected communities. So if we try to make a case for health funding, we need to engage important precedents, such as the:
        1. Brownfields to Healthfields Projects in Region 4 that fund health clinics (experimental program)
        1. Libby Montana model wherein asbestos contamination led to Superfund funding of a nonprofit clinic to respond to resident health care needs (CARD)
        1. Current Michigan legislative issues, which includes a bill in the state senate and house that would supplement the Superfund Tax with a state polluter pay tax which has been launched but chairs won’t let them get to floor for a vote.
      1. Do we want to make ourselves known to the committee and let them know we have an opinion on these issues, essentially make a formal statement? Jane and Jim recommend presenting the idea to the Executive Committee for a vote.
    1. No Joe Scholtz Memorial Fishing Derby in June due to Covid-19 concerns

*Please remember to pay membership dues ($5/year). Send check to PO Box 172, St. Louis, MI 48880.

**The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

Meeting adjourned at 8:42 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Brittany Fremion, Secretary

Massive DDT Dumping News

Reports during the week of April 25 reported on discovery of massive number of barrels from DDT production found in ocean off Los Angeles. The DDT waste apparently came from Montrose Chemical. There i a link of Montrose to the remediation in St. Louis, Michigan. Not only did St. Louis have massive dumping, in it case in the Pine River, but the contamination of the water table under Los Angeles by pCBSA (para-Chlorobenzene Sulfonic Acid), a byproduct of DDT production, tipped-off US EPA in 2005 to look for pCBSA in the St. Louis Water System. After pCBSA was found it resulted in a successful lawsuit to secure funds from the insurance of Fruit of the Loom and Velsicol for costs f a new water system. Here is a link to one of the stories about dumping n the Pacific: Scientist: Extent of DDT dumping in Pacific is ‘staggering’ (apnews.com)

Worker’s Memorial Day (April 28) and St. Louis

April 28, 2021 is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) . The “father” of OSHA was Tony Mazzocchi, then of the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW – later merged with the Steel Workers). Mazzocchi helped the local OCAW (the union of the workers at Michigan Chemical) in St. Louis, Michigan confront the worker health issue from the company – especially PBB exposures after the PBB accident. The union calls April 28, Worker’s Memorial Day.

Tony Mazzocchi

Report on intergenerational human health (breast cancer) impacts of long-ago DDT exposures.

Environmental Health News carried this summary of new findings about the intergenerational impacts of DDT exposure. This news is especially relevant to the Pine River community both because Michigan Chemical/Velsicol was a major producer of DDT but also because the firm carelessly dumped large quantities into the regional environment. Former workers at Michigan Chemical/Velsicol, their families and residents f the region should be concerned with this news. See this summary: Pesticide DDT linked to increased breast cancer risk generations after exposure – EHN

Wednesday, March 17, 2021, Task Force Monthly Public Meeting at 7:00 p.m. Here is the agenda:

PROGRAM: CAG Member JoAnne Scalf will give a presentation on the health mapping project which she began several years ago. The project tracks health problems of people who lived or who now live near the Superfund Site in St. Louis.

EPA Report: Tom Alcamo, Remedial Project Manager
EGLE Report: Erik Martinson, Project Manager


PBB Leadership Team (related to Emory University PBB health studies) Update

Website redesign and

CMU class in public history

NEW BUSINESS: Tomorrow (Thursday, March 18 – 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) forum on Superfund financing and need for more stable funding source.

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