Biden infrastructure law funds cleanup of toxic Superfund site in Wisconsin


In total, $3.5 billion will be allocated under the law to clean up Superfund sites across the country.

Money allocated under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in 2021 is being used to fund the cleanup of toxic materials at the Penta Wood Products site in Burnett County, Wisconsin. Nearly $1.4 million allocated under the law is going to the project to prevent further environmental damage to the area.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Penta Wood Products "operated from 1953 to 1992 using a chemical called pentachlorophenol, or PCP, to treat wood posts and telephone poles by dipping them in an open tank."

The EPA says in a hazard summary about the chemical:

Pentachlorophenol is extremely toxic to humans from acute (short-term) ingestion and inhalation exposure. Acute inhalation exposures in humans have resulted in neurological, blood, and liver effects, and eye irritation. Chronic (long-term) exposure to pentachlorophenol by inhalation in humans has resulted in effects on the respiratory tract, blood, kidney, liver, immune system, eyes, nose, and skin. ... Human studies suggest an association between exposure to pentachlorophenol and cancer. Oral animal studies have reported increases in liver tumors and two uncommon tumor types. EPA has classified pentachlorophenol as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen.

Cleanup of the site began in 1992 after the original owners abandoned it. Surveys found that PCP and other substances, including arsenic, had contaminated the soil and water throughout the property. In 1996, the location was declared a "Superfund" site, the informal name for sites identified under the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act as requiring federal cleanup work.

The first phase of the Penta Wood Products cleanup ended in 2000, but tests conducted in 2017 found high levels of PCP persisting in the area. However, there were no funds available to pay for the additional cleanup. The passage of the infrastructure law has now put those funds in place.

Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources said the new money is vital for the region.

"This funding will be critical to cleaning up contaminated wetlands on neighboring properties and bringing us closer to achieving our ultimate goal, clean up and closure of this Superfund site," said Christine Haag, director of the department's Remediation and Redevelopment Program, in a statement released on May 6.

The $1.9 trillion infrastructure law passed in Congress with all Democrats in both the House and the Senate voting in favor of it and was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Nov. 15, 2021. A majority of Republicans in Congress voted against the law, including all of the Republicans representing Wisconsin in the House. Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson voted against the bill.

In total, $3.5 billion will be allocated under the law to clean up Superfund sites across the country.

"The backlog of previously unfunded sites that will now be receiving funding are in 24 states and territories and all 10 EPA regions, including some communities who have been waiting for cleanup for more than four years," the EPA noted in a press release in December.

Many of the sites that will receive the funding are located in communities consisting primarily of low-income and minority residents, as part of the Biden agenda's commitment to environmental justice.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.