There's a new plan to clean up toxic soil at site of former paper company

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A new proposed clean-up for toxic soil in Cass Lake will be presented at a public meeting this weekend, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency says.

The EPA is proposing a plan to clean up soil contamination affecting residents near the St. Regis Paper Co. site on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation. The Superfund site is in Cass Lake near the Chippewa National Forest.

The EPA is aiming to remove dangerous chemicals from the soil and groundwater, such polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are believed to cause cancer and mutations in genes, and can cause damage to internal organs.

The chemicals are common in sludge and waste from wood burning.

The recommended cleanup plan includes removing contaminated soil from affected residential areas and replacing it with clean soil.

Background

The St. Regis Paper Co. site was used as a wood treating operation from the late 1950s until 1985, when it was found to be contaminating groundwater.

At the time, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and former owner of the facility agreed to clean up the site, with the goal of removing 40,000 cubic yards of visibly contaminated soil and sludge from the site, including ponds and the city dump.

The EPA became the lead agency working on clean up in 1995 and as of the end of 2013, more than 47,000 pounds of toxic, dangerous material has been removed from the ground and water.

Children would swim in wastewater, play on landfill

While site workers were tested and concerned with exposure to toxic chemicals, the affected area includes a residential neighborhood.

The Minnesota Department of Health said in a report that children swam in the wastewater that overflowed from the ponds into their yards, played on the landfill, and in some cases people who grew up in the area reported making and eating mud pies from soil that may have been contaminated.

But also anyone who lived downwind from the two large, open burners may have come in contact with the toxic smoke, so those potentially exposed didn't even have to live in the immediate neighborhood.

The Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System (MCSS) found a slight increase in reports of cancer in the Cass Lake area in a report from a decade ago, but there was no definitive link to St. Regis exposure compared to factors like diet and smoking.

What comes next

The EPA will be holding an information session and public meeting on Saturday April 9 to explain the proposed actions. Public comments will be available.

The EPA is also accepting public comments on the plan between March 28 and May 27.

For information on how to call, email or attend the meeting for public comment, click here.

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