The Department of Natural Resources has opened an investigation into the Wauleco owned site at the intersection of Thomas Street and Cleveland Avenue in Wausau.
The investigation centers on possible improper burning of tens of thousands of tons of wood waste decades ago-- that could be polluting the soil now.
Past investigations of the Wauleco owned site have centered on soil and groundwater contamination from Penta, a known carcinogen used in wood manufacturing.
Now, the DNR is looking into air contamination as a result of improper wood burning, and whether that has settled into the surrounding neighborhood.
"I’m very relieved and appreciative that the DNR is stepping up.” said Tom Kilian, a member of Citizens for a Clean Wausau. “It took a few decades and some citizen action, but it's a real relief that this may lead to some thorough testing.”
The question at hand now, is whether the burning methods contaminated the air in the surrounding areas, and settled into the Wausau neighborhood around the plant.
"Prior to this we didn't know that there was a boiler used to burn waste at the site,” said Matt Thompson of the Wisconsin DNR. “The use of the boiler insinuates that there might be an aerial deposition of particulates, either off the site or on the site.”
Kilian said: "If it was going up it had to be coming down somewhere, so hopefully they'll be able to find out where in the neighborhood it was depositing."
In their letter the DNR requests three pieces of information:
What was being burned? How much was being burned?
And who was doing the burning?
Until further testing is done, it's hard to say what kind of harm could be possible as a result.
Thompson elaborated: “Until we see sample results from soils either on site or off site, we won't know exactly what chemicals are present, and I guess what the specific harms could be."
"I hope this is the first step in getting thorough off-site testing in the neighborhood,” said Kilian.
According to the letter from the DNR, Wauleco has until March 16th to answer the DNR’s questions-- by scoping out a site investigation and submitting a work plan.
We reached out to Wauleco for their reaction to this letter, but have not heard back.