Pollution agencies claim water concerns illegitimate
Residents’ complaints lead to city meeting
December 10, 2015
Governmental leaders and agencies heard heightened concerns from residents regarding water safety and potential cancer risks that residents claim stem from the former site of the Reilly tar company, according to Jay Hall, utilities superintendent for the city of St. Louis Park.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the city of St. Louis Park and other pollution organizations met with residents Nov. 12 about the water safety concerns.
The EPA scheduled the meeting, and organizations joining them included the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the city of St. Louis Park.
Hall said since the EPA makes most major decisions regarding water issues, possible City Council and city government actions on potential water contamination at the Reilly site are limited. Though the City Council can discuss the issue and make recommendations, Hall said the EPA and other environmental organizations are in charge of taking action.
Hall said he insists the city’s water is safe, and concerns with its safety and health effects are not accurate.
“A handful of residents were very concerned with what they feel may be correlation with cancer rates,” Hall said. “(Residents) felt something sketchy was going on, which I assure you it wasn’t.”
David Jones, a site assessment and consultation unit supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Health, said St. Louis Park’s water meets all standards.
“The city of Saint Louis Park municipal water system is in compliance with all requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The water that is delivered to the community is tested frequently to ensure safety is maintained,” Jones said.
Though Jones and Hall have claimed the city’s drinking water is safe, some residents feel concerned about possible cancer risks. These include members of the Facebook group “St. Louis Park Cancer Cluster.” The group focuses on discussing drinking water safety.
Hall said residents’ concerns led the EPA to hold a meeting, which was open for the public to ask questions and get information. Along with pollution agency representatives, Hall said that residents’ concerns are unreasonable.
“The EPA was pressured into holding (the meeting),” Hall said. “The water is safe to drink in St. Louis Park.”
Jones said he thinks residents became frustrated because they perceived a lack of truthful information.
“I think a lot of the controversy and anger had to do with people not having enough information about what is going on,” Jones said. “Hopefully, the information provided at the meeting helped people understand the situation and what is being done about it.”
The EPA was unavailable for comment.
Concerns over superfund site grow
Community members, local government hold meeting
Update 12/16 Echo revised this story after an investigation. The story incorrectly represented the list of chemicals that would be removed from the settlement. According to St. Louis Park utilities superintendent Jay Hall, the list has not been finalized. Echo regrets this error.
Every day, community member Barb Waller places new pins on a virtual map as she tracks disease in St. Louis Park.
Waller leads a group of residents concerned about the effects of contaminants left behind by a factory that manufactured an industrial tar called creosote, at what is now the site of Louisiana Oaks Park. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the land as a Superfund site, a polluted area designated for long-term contaminant cleanup.
Waller said she uses her map to search for patterns in occurrences of cancer and neurological disorders in St. Louis Park.
“The pins on the map represent those that had or have a serious illness that may have been caused by the contamination,” Waller said.
According to Waller, she shares and organizes her findings with other concerned community members through a Facebook group called St. Louis Park Cancer Cluster.
“(St. Louis Park Cancer Cluster) is a place where past, present, and future residents of St. Louis Park can learn about the superfund site that Reilly Tar and Creosote created and how it affects people to this day,” Waller said. ”This is a place where people can ask questions, share their stories and seek out opportunities to ensure our environment, including drinking water, is free from contaminants.”
Waller said she believes a correlation exists between the contaminants left behind by the factory and the occurrences of cancer and neurological disorders in St. Louis Park.
“Do I think there is a correlation? Yes. Am I trying to make other people believe that? No. They can believe what they want,” Waller said. “The reason that I believe it is because of what other people tell me and I’d like to see proof that there isn’t.”
According to David Jones, a research scientist with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), residents’ questions about the site have validity.
“Concerns that contaminants at or from the Reilly Tar Superfund site have caused cancer and/or neurological disorders are common to many people living near the site now or who lived there in the past and they are completely understandable questions,” Jones said. “They are also extremely difficult to answer in a satisfying way.”
According to Jones, attributing a certain factor to health patterns in a population is very difficult.
“For individual cases of cancer or any other health problems that can be caused by multiple different factors or agents, it is usually very difficult — if not impossible — to know with any certainty what specifically caused the health effects,” Jones said. “Although we would like to be able to help people get answers to their concerns, we simply don’t have the kind of information that would be necessary to answer this question scientifically.”
According to EPA records, the EPA found Benzo(a)pyrene, a potentially cancer-causing contaminant, in the groundwater in a St. Louis Park municipal well.
According to St. Louis Park utilities superintendent Jay Hall, the pollutants at the municipal well do not contaminate the city’s drinking water.
“The contaminants are removed from the water with carbon filters located on this site so none of these contaminants are present in the drinking water,” Hall said. “The carbon does a great job of removing all of these contaminants from the drinking water. We change the carbon every other year and is very expensive to replace.”
Sophomore India Booker said her family no longer drinks tap water because they fear contamination.
“Our dad doesn’t let us drink the water anymore. We have to buy our own,” Booker said. “I guess it’s pretty serious. I think it should be taken care of.”
According to Jones, the government hosted a meeting with residents to address their concerns.
“The EPA held a meeting with community members to respond to their questions and concerns about the Reilly Tar Superfund site in St. Louis Park. The city and state agencies (MDH and MPCA) were also present to listen to the community and help provide information,” Jones said. “Many of those questions centered on wanting to know more about pollutants present in the area and the effects they might have on the community.”
Waller said she hopes to investigate proposed changes to the water quality testing standards required by the settlement between the government and Reilly Tar Company.
“The city of St. Louis Park wants to stop testing for 15 chemicals at the site. I think it’s something that the taxpayers should be aware of and make that decision because no one knows what these chemicals are,” Waller said. “They need to let people know what the chemicals are, why they want them to be taken out, what they plan to do with the money they save from removing these chemicals (from testing) and how much they’re going to save.”
According to St. Louis Park utilities superintendent Jay Hall, the EPA and MDH are currently updating the water testing standards and the Health Risk Limits (HRLS) list. The MDH uses the HRLS to ensure drinking water quality.
“The Minnesota Department of Health uses the HRLS to determine what chemicals need to be tested for. The MDH and the EPA are working to set up a new HRLS,” Hall said. “Some chemicals are probably going to be added to the HRLS. It’s not set as far as which ones are going to be removed. It’s going to be based on what they find out as far as some scientific studies that they’re doing on each chemical.”
Hall said chemicals would be removed because they were initially added to the settlement as a precaution and have since been deemed not dangerous.
“When the consent decree was developed, a lot of these chemicals were new to them and they were using old technology,” Hall said. “The standards that were set in the consent decree are actually a lot higher standards than what any other drinking water is required. They’d rather be over cautious than have people get sick or anything from these contaminants.”
According to Hall, there are very few U.S. labs that can adequately test for the amounts of chemicals required for testing under the settlement.
“There’s only three labs in the United States that can sample that low — in the parts per trillion area. We ship these samples all the way to the state of Washington for them to test,” Hall said. “(When a lab is) testing that low, they sometimes have to validate them because they can’t confirm for sure if the actual detect was a detect.”
Booker said she, personally, feels unsure about whether or not the drinking water may cause cancer.
“I don’t know about the whole cancer thing,” Booker said. “I think there’s something wrong with it if they’re saying something is wrong with it.”
Echo is currently investigating this issue after new information was brought to our attention. Please check back for updates.
Echo revised the above story after an investigation. The story incorrectly represented the list of chemicals that would be removed from the settlement. According to St. Louis Park utilities superintendent Jay Hall, the list has not been finalized. Echo regrets this error.