Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New DEQ Web site offers info, updates on Torch Lake Abandoned Mining Wastes project; scientists meet with public at Open House

By Michele Bourdieu

This is one of 59 similar drums pulled out of a drum disposal mound created during the late 1970s or early 1980s on the former Coal Dock property between Hubbell and Lake Linden in September and October 2016 as part of the ongoing Torch Lake Abandoned Mining Wastes Project led by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Remediation and Redevelopment Division. More removal of buried drums is planned for summer 2017. (Photo from Amy Keranen's Fall 2016 Newsletter courtesy Michigan DEQ)

LAKE LINDEN -- In her Fall 2016 Newsletter, Amy Keranen, Michigan DEQ project manager for the Abandoned Mining Wastes (AMW) project at Torch Lake, published several photos of the work completed between June and October of this year, including removal of asbestos- and PCB-containing wastes between Lake Linden and Tamarack City in Houghton County. Keranen also announced the recent posting of a new DEQ Web site where the public can access the relevant studies, data and findings of past work done at Torch Lake, as well as the data from the current AMW project.*

This map shows the areas of the DEQ's Abandoned Mining Wastes project, prioritized in the following order: Calumet and Hecla Lake Linden Operations Area (CHLL), C and H Tamarack City Operations Area (CHTC), Quincy Mining Company Mason Operations Area (QMCM), Centennial Mine, Michigan Smelter and Freda/Redridge. (Image courtesy Michigan DEQ)

The following is the AMW Project Statement published on the new Web site:

Environmental impairments within Torch Lake and industrial areas along the shoreline resulting from historical mining-associated industrial operations:
  • Present potential human health and ecological concerns;
  • Limit the recovery of the Torch Lake ecosystem;
  • Create uncertainty over safe and beneficial reuse of the land; and,
  • The on-going presence of Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other contaminants, in part, prevent Torch Lake from being delisted as an Area of Concern (AOC) under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement due to Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) related to restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption and degradation of benthos.
This photo from Amy Keranen's recent Fall 2016 Newsletter shows pieces of PCB-containing wire coatings discarded on the ground surface during the reclamation processes conducted at the C and H properties in Hubbell. These wastes were removed and disposed in September 2016. (Photo courtesy Michigan DEQ)

The purpose of the AMW project, underway since 2014, is to identify and evaluate environmental impairments that were not effectively addressed under the US EPA's Superfund program, which included the upper six inches of stamp sand and slag in certain areas of Houghton County and any soil cap and vegetative cover applied to such areas, but which did not attempt any action on groundwater, surface water and sediment.

The present DEQ project also intends to provide findings to governmental stakeholders responsible for implementing and monitoring US EPA’s remedy for the Torch Lake Superfund Site so they can determine if any remedy modifications are necessary in Torch Lake or the terrestrial areas previously addressed by US EPA. The AMW project plans to support a comprehensive management approach that will guide DEQ’s decision making process in addressing potential human health and ecological concerns and to address the most significant risks to public health and safety, or to the environment, posed by terrestrial abandoned mining wastes.

AMW Project work completed in 2016

Here are some before and after photos of work completed in 2016, from Amy Keranen's Fall 2016 Newsletter:

BEFORE: This photo shows an area of the former Coal Dock and Mineral Building properties between Hubbell and Lake Linden -- where numerous abandoned mining era wastes, including PCB-contaminated materials, are located. (Photo courtesy Michigan DEQ)

AFTER: In late June 2016 Keranen's team installed a gate, repaired the damaged fence and replaced decades-old fading signs. Securing these properties is meant to reduce the public's potential exposure to the wastes until the cleanup work can be done in 2017. (Photo courtesy Michigan DEQ)

BEFORE: This photo shows asbestos-containing roofing material on the ground surface around the Mineral Building near Hubbell. (Photo courtesy Michigan DEQ)

AFTER: This photo shows the asbestos being removed during late June and early July 2016. (Photo courtesy Michigan DEQ)

BEFORE: Contaminated area near Torch Lake. (Photo courtesy Michigan DEQ)

AFTER: In August 2016 the team completed certain sections of drainage ditches on the former Coal Dock and Mineral Building properties in order to return flow to its historic locations, routing it away from the most contaminated areas in an effort to reduce potential contaminant flow into Torch Lake. (Photo courtesy Michigan DEQ)

Plans for Fall and Winter 2016/2017 include continuing to develop plans for Emergency Response Actions to remove drums (see photo above) beneath the Superfund cap along the shoreline at the former Hubbell Smelter and the seep areas at the Tamarack Sands (contingent on receiving the Federal permit); compiling information and reports on evaluation and Emergency Response Actions completed; obtaining access to  to properties in the next phase of the AMW project -- the Quincy Mining Company - Mason Area (QMCM) and becoming familiar with the area; and developing engineering estimates and designs for the Hubbell Processing Area (the former Coal Dock and Mineral Building properties), pertaining to PCB contamination and the demolition debris piles on site. Until conditions at the site can be improved, the public should continue to avoid accessing this private property without taking appropriate precautions.**

DEQ holds 2016 Open House on AMW project

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Remediation and Redevelopment Division Upper Peninsula District Office has held Open House events in Lake Linden in 2015 and 2016 to share information with the public and provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions and meet the project staff.***

During the DEQ Open House held at the Lake Linden-Hubbell High School on May 17, 2016, Clif Clark, right, DEQ Remediation and Redevelopment Field Operations supervisor for the U.P. District, chats with Jeff Pincumbe, geologist for the DEQ Remediation and Redevelopment Division. Pincumbe shows Clark how his electromagnetic survey instrument is used to find metal objects in the ground using ground penetrating radar. (Photos of Open House by Keweenaw Now)

Geologist Jeff Pincombe is pictured here with a display about the ground penetrating radar he uses to pinpoint where an object is. "You get a better idea how deep it is, and sometimes you can get a good idea what it is," he said of the technology.

Clif Clark, DEQ Remediation and Redevelopment Field Operations supervisor for the U.P. District, has welcomed the public to both of these events and is now also attending meetings of the Torch Lake Area of Concern Public Action Council (PAC), a group of community stakeholders with the federal and state agencies working at the Torch Lake Area of Concern (AOC) and Superfund site.****

During the Open House last May, Clark told Keweenaw Now he is very happy with the work Amy Keranen has done on the AMW project.

"I'm really proud of what Amy has done," Clark said. "It's a big project. It's big, it's complicated, it's important."

Clark said he estimates the entire project could take another six years to complete.

"How long it takes depends on what we find, on whether material needs to be moved or managed, what kind of funding sources we have, and what kind of cooperation we can get from people we might partner with," he explained.

Clark noted, for example, that the project data is shared with the Torch Lake PAC and the State Department of Health and Human Services.

"There's a lot of work to do and a limited number of people to do it and we're doing the work in a smart way," he added. "We're prioritizing it, and we're doing the most important stuff first."

During the May 2016 Open House, AMW Project Manager Amy Keranen, right, DEQ Remediation and Redevelopment Division, talks about educating the public about the project with visitors from Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK), from left, Catherine Andrews and Linda Rulison, FOLK president.

Keranen writes her newsletters and arranges the Open House events in order share information on the project and communicate with the public.

"As part of the project, I feel it is important to continue to expand the audience who receives direct information regarding the work at Abandoned Mining Wastes - Torch Lake project," she said.

The new Web site now makes her newsletters and reports accessible on line.

Catherine Andrews and Linda Rulison of FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), who attended the Open House, both expressed interest in the AMW project.

Andrews said she was concerned about the fish advisories for Torch Lake.

Said Rulison, "It's nice having educational open houses to help inform the public so they'll know why it's important to support the Abandoned Mining Wastes project."

During the Open House scientists working on Torch Lake issues were available to speak with the public and other scientists about their work.

Kevin Brown, environmental scientist for the Mannik and Smith Group, consultants to DEQ, shows  Judith Perlinger, Michigan Tech professor of environmental engineering, a Google Earth file showing locations of DEQ's ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) camera. Perlinger is now working on an integrated assessment of historical industrial activities and the pollution in and near Torch Lake.

Kevin Brown, environmental scientist and GIS specialist for the Mannik and Smith Group, has contributed a useful data base to the AMW project.

"I've created a data base of the chemical analytical results from analyses of samples taken by DEQ, EPA and others," Brown said.

Jed Christensen, left, environmental engineer for the Mannik and Smith Group, talks with Mike Dziobak of Houghton about pollution from mercury and PCBs. Dziobak said he studied air pollution in Michigan Tech's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

Jed Christensen, environmental engineer for the Mannik and Smith Group, consultants for DEQ, said his main work on this AMW project is cleaning up PCBs, metals and asbestos.

"The two primary options are to excavate them and properly dispose of them -- or we could manage in place and cap them with clean soil and vegetation so they're not accessible to the public and not eroding into the lake," Christensen explained.

The asbestos has to be double-bagged and taken to a land fill that accepts it, he added.

Jeff Binkley, project manager for the Mannik and Smith Group, points to a groundwater sampling point in the Hubbell Processing Area on the map.

Jeff Binkley, project manager for the Mannik and Smith Group, described the company's role in the AMW project.

"We support Amy Keranen by doing a lot of the background research and developing a plan for investigation and remediation," Binkley said.

Amy Keranen chats with Mike Lahti of Hancock about the AMW project.

Keranen said in her recent newsletter that she plans to hold another Open House on the project in May 2017.


* Click here to access the new Web site on the AMW project. For detailed study of the reports and other documents on the new AMW Web site see the User Guide.

** Click here to read Amy Keranen's Fall 2016 Newsletter, with more photos. See links to previous newsletters on the AMW project here.

*** See our Feb. 16, 2016, article on Torch Lake, which includes the DEQ's 2015 Open House, research findings on PCBs at Torch Lake, and a historical presentation on Torch Lake areas of contamination from mining by Carol MacLennan, Michigan Tech professor of anthropology.

**** Watch for a future article on recent meetings of the Torch Lake PAC.

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