Contamination mars site, rife with possibilities
Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series examining the contamination of the Wash King Laundry Superfund site near Baldwin. The first article looked at the history of the site. The second article will draw attention to the current status of the site and recent PFAS contamination detected as well as explore future remedial actions.
BALDWIN — Although a former laundry facility near Baldwin ceased dry-cleaning operations more than 40 years ago, decades of dealing with contamination at the site isn’t going away.
Volunteers are giving themselves clean water at a huge cost and have done so for years.
DISCOVERY OF PFAS
In addition to a plume of PCE (perchloroethylene) contamination at the Wash King Laundry Superfund site, the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), detected site tested positive for PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.)
The Wash King Laundry, and four lagoons which collected laundry discharge water, was in operation in Pleasant Plains Township from 1962 to 1991, and was discovered to be a source of laundry-related contaminants which seeped into the groundwater and soil when area wells were tested in the early ‘70s.
EGLE, formerly called the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, tested the contaminated area for PFAS last July as part of continuing cleanup work to clean up PCE contaminants. The site was suspected to have PFAS because of dry-cleaning operations which took place in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
PFAS were used for more than 50 years in many products, including Teflon, waterproof clothing and footwear and laundry agents. They are chemicals which break down very slowly and are highly soluble, moving easily from groundwater to surface water. There is a possibility the chemical was used at the site for clothing stain repellent or in laundry detergent.
In July, EGLE took 11 groundwater samples in the current PCE plume, and in August, two of the 11 samples had detectable levels of PFAS, each north of the former lagoons, where the groundwater flows northward. The highest concentration was 310 ppt (parts per trillion) and in total, 550 ppt. The lifetime health advisory level is 70 ppt before the chemical is considered to adversely affect health.
In September, the community water supply, which is hooked up to 18 residences and three businesses, were sampled twice. The first sample detected 4 ppt PFAS and the second sample was non-detectable.
On Feb. 4, EGLE tested two residential well locations near the site, and indicated a very low detection, 4 ppt at one location, and at the other location, 60 ppt was detected. Residents were notified and the location with 60 ppt was provided an alternative water source and filters.
LOCALS FEELING IMPACT
Several residents and a few businesses in the area have been coping with contamination issues since the early ‘80s, when a municipal well system designed to hook up 24 homes and businesses was installed. Currently, 18 residences and three businesses including Paul Bunyan Antiques Mall, Pure Michigan Solutions, LLC and Baldwin Canoe Rental, are on the system.
When the municipal well system began operating by 1984, the Clean Water Association was formed by people who used it. The CWA is a volunteer group which collects an annual payment from well-users and manages upkeep.
“We maintain the wells and everything, as well as pay for the cost of electricity at the pump house,” said Bob Jelinski, treasurer/secretary of the CWA and owner of Paul Bunyan Antiques. “We used to test the system ourselves, but it got complicated, so we contract with Great Lakes Quality Water Lab to do the testing.”
Audrey Domunique, owner of Pure Michigan Solutions, LLC and president of CWA, is concerned about the costs of keeping the system properly maintained.
“All establishments on the system pay $240 per year. I feel the cost could go up. There are not enough funds if equipment breaks down. Right now, three storage tanks are very old and need replacing. If one of those go down, it would be a huge problem. We just don’t have the money. We are the owners of the system and are responsible for it,” she said.
“Most of the work is done by the CWA and we do it for free. No one is getting paid. There are a lot of weekenders and older residents on the well system who can’t always repair things. When someone moves away, the cost increases for each establishment because the full amount still needs to be paid.
“The CWA meets once a year, and we try to get together when we think weekenders will be available. If anyone has time to help us, we would welcome the help. CWA member Steve Sturtevant currently does maintenance for the system.”
Currently, the polluted site is in the process of a five-year review plan which began Sept. 14, 2015. Institution controls are still in place by the EPA, which limits land-use at the site until everything is cleaned up.
According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website regarding the Wash King Laundry Superfund site, the area is not yet ready for reuse and redevelopment. However, human exposure to contaminants are under control, with assessments indicating there are currently no pathways unacceptable to human exposure. They also concluded migration of contaminated groundwater is stabilized and there is no unacceptable discharge to surface water.
The EPA will conduct monitoring to confirm groundwater remains in the original area of contamination.
Bob Sanders, zoning administrator for Pleasant Plains Township, said a lot of work and resources have gone into site cleanup, and he hopes to see completion so the land bank property currently owned by Lake County can be sold and utilized.
“I hope people become aware of this site and maybe we will get some more help from Lansing to clean it up,” he said. “The township did everything they could to bring awareness and funding,” he said.
CLEANUP ACTION PLAN
Even though the danger of human exposure to contaminants is under control, the Wash King site is still undergoing testing, maintenance and full cleanup efforts so the land can be commercially-viable again.
In the most recent action plan by Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), formerly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, there are five potential remedies to get cleanup at the site finalized.
Among the options listed is taking no action. This would leave only natural processes to reduce the contaminated concentrations in the polluted areas. Another option would be in-situ (on-site) chemical oxidation, using specific chemicals to eliminate contaminants in the soil and ground water. The chemicals would react with the PCE, producing substances such as carbon dioxide and water.
In-situ chemical reduction, a third option, uses (zerovalent iron) ZVI to eliminate PCE contamination. The ZVI process filters out contaminants, leaving only uncontaminated groundwater and dissolved iron.
A fourth option, on-site treatment remediation, is technology which thermally heats the ground to increase the mobility of the contaminants, allowing for more complete removal.
The last option, excavation, would involve removing all surface infrastructure, vegetation and contaminated soils in the treatment zone to transport to a licensed landfill. Water removal with an off-site groundwater treatment system also would be involved. After excavation, the site would be back-filled with clean, imported soils.
Which of the five avenues to proceed with for cleanup is still being determined.
PRIME LOCATION IN COMMERCIAL DISTRICT
Along the Pere Marquette River, just north of the contamination site, several businesses cater to activities and tourism on the federal- and state-designated wild scenic river. Local officials would like to see the vacant Wash King site join this commercial district.
Currently, deed restrictions are in place at the contaminated area, preventing use of the land for any purposes. Restrictions won’t be lifted until the site is fully cleaned up.
A blight structure, the old Windjammer Restaurant, was removed from the Wash King site thanks to the efforts of Pleasant Plains Township and the county to treat contamination underneath the building.
“The Wash King site is now a land bank property owned by the county,” said Lake County Treasurer Brenda Kutchinski. “This will be in our possession until we get an okay from DEQ. They will notify me and meet with county commissioners about what is going on with the site, and they will give me the OK to sell it.
“The county joined Pleasant Plains Township to have a fire demolition of the old restaurant building. The fire department took it down, which helped with the cost. Clean up didn’t take long at all. It is property in a commercial district, so I don’t think we will have any problem selling it.”
Pat Williams, of the Lake County Economic Development Alliance, is hopeful the cleanup of the contaminated site will mean a positive future for business opportunities in the county.
“With the push for economic development geared more toward tourism, and with the area being the center of the fishing community, the land would be a good spot for some sort of retail or restaurant,” she said.
COMMUNITY WANTS CLOSURE
Township officials, as well as members of the community, including those on the municipal well system paying for maintenance and upkeep of the system for a mistake someone else was responsible for, hope to see closure of the decades-old cleanup project.
Pleasant Plains Township Trustee Clint Jackson, who spearheaded a two-year blight cleanup on the property, wants more awareness of the site at the state and national level.
“I hope somebody will wake up. I often wonder and think about the residents who have been affected by the contamination,” he said.
Efforts to restore the land have continued for some time, spanning decades of hard work, toil and care, and all involved, from residents to business owners and officials, hopeful to see these efforts provide a promising future.