Landfill site well contamination gets heated

August 30, 2018

By Ed Byrne The Brillion News

Supervisor, solid waste chief spar at meeting

GREEN BAY – A meeting of the Brown County Board’s Human Services Committee, on August 22, heated up over the issue of chemical contaminants found in test wells the county’s Port and Resource Recovery Department (PRRD) drilled on the Town of Holland site where it plans to big a large landfill.

The principal combatants were Solid Waste Director Dean Haen and Brown County District 20 Supervisor Steve Deslauriers, who is also a member of the Town of Holland’s Landfill Monitoring Committee.

The basic situation is this: when water in the shallow test wells was bailed out to be tested, the tests found two hazardous chemicals present. One was trichloroethylene (TCE) and the other was methalylene chloride. Both are volatile organic compounds.

There were 23 wells tested. The chemicals were found in water taken from 22 of those wells, and in three samples, levels were above the levels considered safe in drinking water.

The biggest problem, from the perspective of Supervisor Deslauriers, was the timeline.

The county hired Badger Laboratories to test the water from the wells, and the testing began in December of 2017.

But the county Port and Resource Recovery Department didn’t inform anyone until August – this month. The Brown County Health Department learned about the problem and promptly notified the state Department of Natural Resources and turned the problem over to the DNR.

Haen maintains that the heavy clay soils at the landfill site are not the source of the contaminants.

Instead, he said it appears that the devices – called “bailers” – that were used to pull water out of the test wells for sampling were the source of the TCE and methylene chloride. The bailers were made by Royal Custom Plastics of De Pere, and it may have used glue containing the contaminants when it built the bailers.

Another manufacturer of water bailers describe them this way: “Disposable bailers are a type of grab sampler used in ground water monitoring wells to retrieve a water sample from below the ground surface. Disposable bailers … consist of a hollow tube with a check valve at the bottom and a handle at the top. To retrieve a water sample from a well, a tether cord is attached to the handle at the top of the disposable bailer and the bailer is lowered into the well where it contacts the groundwater.”

When it is pulled back out of the well, the water same is retrieved and tested.

Deslauriers said the whole situation amounted to a failure of the Solid Waste people to disclose what was happening.

“Until the Planning, Development and Transportation Committee (PD&T) meeting last month, I was unaware of it, the town [of Holland] was unaware of it, the [county] Health Department was unaware of it, the DNR was unaware of it,” Deslauriers said.

Haen said he brought the situation to the attention of the PD&T Committee last month “because there’s going to be costs to the county, also possibly lawsuits…” he said.

The county drilled shallow wells (20-60 feet in depth) at the site of the proposed three-county landfill – on land south of Mill Road, north of Lamers-Clancy Road and west of Old 57 Road – to establish baseline data for future groundwater testing after the landfill goes in.

Badger Laboratories was hired to take water samples and analyze them, and in January reported finding TCE and methyl chloride in the wells.

That’s when the county hired Foth Infrastructure & Environment LLC to investigate why those volatile organic compounds were in the water samples.

Haen defending his department not going public with the situation.

“It’s taken that long just doing the technical and scientific analysis to figure out what’s going on,” Haen said.

He believes the glue used to hold the end caps on the bailer tubes is the source of the contamination.

He said his department and Foth are working with the DNR.

Nineteen of the 22 wells have contaminants considered to be at levels too small to be of concern.

“Three of them have hits that are just above that drinking water standard,” Haen said.

Haen also said that people with private wells in the area have deep wells – 300 to 400 feet down – and the test wells at the landfill site are between 20 and 60 feet down.

The landfill site has more than 100 test wells drilled, but the county was only sampling 23 of them.

Under questioning from Human Service Committee Chairman Erik Hoyer, Haen said his department had not contact any owners of private wells in the area.

“The DNR is not requiring us to contact anybody,” Haen said.

But he said Solid Waste would propose to the DNR that it would test private wells for volatile organic compounds.

Hoyer was also concerned that the county was aware of the toxins in January, but the DNR wasn’t notified until August. Haen said the county didn’t have enough information to take it to the DNR earlier.

“Right now, six to eight months after the contamination happened, we do not know with certainty where the TCE came from – is that correct?” Deslauriers said.

Haen said that was true.

“The fact is we don’t know where it came from six to eight months ago and still do not know,’ Deslauriers said. “We have neighboring landowners with private wells … We are rolling the dice with the health and safety of the residents around the dump.”

Deslaurier said well water contamination is a health issue, and the Solid Waste people should not be making the call on a health issue

Delauriers said the county Health Department got involved only because he told them about the situation in July, and then the Health Department contacted the DNR.

“You did not contact the Health Department or the DNR,” Deslauriers said in comments aimed at Haen.

Haen said the DNR has no problems with what the county has done.

“It does nobody any good to do fear mongering and go incite the neighbors – a landfill is a touchy thing,” Haen said. He said the contaminants would not move off site from the landfill property

“It was only through my questioning that the DNR got involved,” Deslauriers said.

He said the Town of Holland has an agreement with the county over the planned landfill and the agreement calls for the town’s Landfill Monitoring Committee to get information on anything like this at the site.

“We did not get anything, any communication …” Deslauriers said.

But Haen said he has a legal opinion that, because the landfill agreement was written 20 years ago, the county can communicate with other agencies by e-mail and has no obligation to share those communications because e-mail hadn’t been invented when the agreement with the town was written.

He said the Port and Resource Recovery Department said nearby landowners should have been in the information loop early to reduce fear over potential well contamination in the area.

Haen suggested that Deslauriers had an ulterior motive in making this issue public.

Deslauriers demanded an apology for that insinuation – and Haen did apologize.

“Can you say to the people of Hollandtown or this area that they have nothing to worry about?” Hoyer asked Haen.

Haen said the clay soil is so thick there that a drop of contaminated water would move only a foot in a year.

“I believe there isn’t risk or concern to the neighbors,” Haen said.

Hoyer said he worries about water being contaminated, suggested that the county’s plan is last-minute, and thinks the county Board of Health should review the whole situation.

“It is our job to make this more public … This is a big issue,” Hoyer said. “[Deslauriers] is representing his area and I think he’s doing a darned good job of it.”

Supervisor Rick Schadewald, who chair the county Board of Health, said that board would be happy to look into the situation and determine whether the county needs a policy to involve the Health Department as soon a situation with health concerns is identified – something that didn’t happen in this case.

The Human Services Committee voted 3-0 to send it to the Board of Health.

“I think it’s a problem when a department without medical or health experience keeps information like this in their own silo,” Deslauriers said. “When I communicated to the health department … they the very next day addressed it with the DNR … I’m not here for any other reason than to prevent this from happening in the future.”

He said the timeline of events in the way the PRRD handled the situation is the problem, and that PRRD should not be making calls where health and safety are involved.

“One of the first calls should be to our Health Department,” Schadewald said. “I just think we should learn from this situation.”

This story first appeared in the August 30, 2018 print edition of The Brillion News. 

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