Pine River to get more testing, studies this summer
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St. Louis: Another downstream study
by Greg Nelson
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to perform more studies on the portion of the Pine River downstream north from the municipal dam in St. Louis.
The study will determine if there is any risk associated with chemicals from the former Velsicol Chemical Co. plant site, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator Diane Russell said.
Both the EPA and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have conducted previous investigations of the 33-mile stretch from St. Louis to where the Pine meets the Chippewa River near the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland County.
Previous sampling by the MDEQ in that section of the river showed that the sediment was contaminated with various toxic substances including PBB, DDT and PAH.
Because of those tests the EPA agreed to do an additional study.
Initial tests were done between 2002 and 2004, with follow-up sampling taking place in 2010 to 2012.
Samples were taken from the sediment, floodplain soils, surface water, fish, birds, mammals and “benthic” invertebrates such as crayfish.
They were tested for more than 100 chemicals with DDT being the most prevalent compound found. The screening level was 5 parts per million.
“DDT is the main driver for the cleanup, although other chemicals were also found to be present in high enough levels to be of concern,” Pine River Superfund Citizens Task Force Secretary Jane Keon said at the time.
One of those was polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAH’s, which comes from oil refining.
Task force members want to know how far downstream the contaminants have traveled.
The EPA also conducted a study of fish in that portion of the river in 2014.
Although the fish are still not fit to eat, and the Michigan Department of Community Health’s ban on the consumption of fish caught in that area established in the late 1970s is still in place, things appear to be getting better.
The $100 million cleanup of the Pine River adjacent to the former Velsicol Chemical Co. plant site in St. Louis, that took place from 1999 to 2006, is credited with improvement.
Work done by the EPA and MDEQ has helped reduce the amount of DDT in common carp downstream from the cleanup has decreased 98 percent, the report stated.
It also cautions that “the cleanup is not complete and fish continue to have some contamination.”
Concentrations of hexabromobiphenyl (HBB), which is part of the PBB group, were also found.
However, not much is know about the substance, MDEQ officials have said.
According to the fish study, health experts check for levels in smallmouth bass and common carp because of their places in the Pine River ecosystem, according tothe EPA
These two species of fish were collected from three areas downstream from the former chemical plant.
DDT levels in fillets of both were lower than previous tests conducted, the report states.
During the cleanup more than 600,000 cubic yards of contaminated mud was removed from the river near the plant site. The EPA and MDEA also pumped and treated more than 2.7 million gallons of polluted water.
Results of an ecological risk assessment and investigation would determine what cleanup options are initiated on that portion of the river, if any.
Task force members want to have a say in any decisions made by the EPA regarding the study.
Last year they sent a letter to the EPA outlining their expectations.
“As stakeholders, we are meant to do more than comment, rather our input is meant to influence the decision-making process,” it stated.
The letter was signed by task force chairman James Hall and technical committee Chairperson Stephen Boyd.
The group is not only concerned about the concentration of contaminants found in fish but also birds and mammals that inhabit that area.
In addition to DDT, the task force also wants the concentrations of other chemicals, such as PBB and HBB, in fish, birds and mammals reduced.
“Our overall objective is to have the DDT and other toxic chemicals present (downstream) decline to levels protective of human health and the environment,” the letter went on to say.
“At this point, it seems apparent that fish-eating birds, such as eagles, great blue herons and kingfishers will benefit from the reduced DDT levels already recorded in the fish, but our objective is to have measurements taken on selected avian species, including robins, and on many terrestrial special as part of the (risk assessment and investigation).