EPA Meeting may be new chance for Cass Lake

By Winona LaDuke

The August 10th hearing by the EPA on the St Regis Superfund site at Cass Lake, Minnesota, may be a promise for a real clean up for the people of Cass Lake, and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.  

 The  meeting at Cass Lake Elementary School was being called to discuss the standards for clean up for which the tribe’s standard is being proposed locally as the regulatory plan for the future.  

There are two groups of chemicals of concern at the site, dioxins/furans and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  

The EPA regulations would place a standard of 63-103 ppt (parts per trillion)  for dioxins/furans in residential areas.  The  tribal standard is l0 ppt.  

The EPA standard for PAHs is 1.6-8.1 ppm in residential areas, the tribal standard is 1.6 ppm.  

The EPA also has even higher standards for “industrial area”, zones of the site that would limit future industrial uses.  

The tribe has deemed that the entire site should be cleaned up to their 10 ppt/1.6 ppm standards, as the tribe may want to use these areas for traditional purposes in the future. The tribe also wants all contaminated soil removed from site, not stored on site, as the EPA prefers.  This would be a significant step for public health, according to Representative John Persell.   

Levi Brown, the Leech Lake Environmental and Land Director will present the tribal standard; “I think that most counties and citizens would like and deserve high public health standards. The Leech Lake band intends to insure these standards.”

Levi Brown, Leech Lake Environmental and Land Director presented the tribal standards it hopes EPA will adopt as the future standards for cleaning up a local super fund site.
                                                                                                           Photo submitted by HONOR

 For 30 years, the superfund site has scarred the community, from health impacts to persistent  environmental contamination.  Years of litigation, health studies, and regulatory discussions have frustrated the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and other community members. “People filed lawsuits to protect their health, and in the meantime, a lot of people have died; children were born with birth defects…, the site is still there,” Teresa LaDuke lifelong Cass Lake resident said. Many residents grew  frustrated with the lack of clean up

 The 125 acre site now owned by International Paper Co, is a former wood treatment facility. Creosote, a possible carcinogen, was mixed with solvents and other chemicals and applied to telephone poles and railroad ties. Treated wood was often stacked up around houses, and fumes from the treatment process often blanketed the town. Wastewater from the process was stored on site in ponds, and occasionally used for irrigation. Bulk sludge was also dumped on site and burned at the Cass Lake city dump.   

The community, not knowing these areas were toxic, used to play in and around them as children. Parts of the site were sold to the City of Cass Lake, and others were later sold to homeowners with no notification of the existing contamination.

In 1984, EPA placed the site on the National Priorities List, making it eligible for cleanup under EPA’s Superfund program.  Since that time, there have been a number of cleanup activities, the earliest of these removing visibly contaminated soil.  This soil was then disposed of off-site, or stored on-site in a storage vault.  

This vault was originally meant to be temporary, but now is included as an option for soil disposal in the newest cleanup scheme. There is also evidence that the vault may be leaking. Local residences have also undergone a cleanup process, as some homes have dioxin limits above safe thresholds.   

The Leech Lake band proposal would move all toxins off the reservation,  now proposals by the band are up for public hearing.

The site has already set a new standard for cleanup, by developing risk assessment strategies based off traditional lifeways.  This methodology recognizes that tribal members have more routes of exposure than non-natives, and results in higher cleanup standards.  Now, LLBO would like to set precedent again, by having Tribal regulations set the standard for cleanup at the  residential superfund site.  There’s a price tag for a better clean up: $220 million, which International Paper would have to pay.  

The Hearing is a formal process to discuss the cleanup plan and take testimony.  

The Band’s Environmental Director Levi Brown has been working for over a decade on this. He told me, “ I want to look at my kids and say that in my time I did the best for this world, you do the same….”  

The hearing held August 10th may be a chance for a lot of people from the region to do the same.   The Tribe and State Representative John Pershell were hoping that many people would come to the meeting.

Website:  www.honorearth.org
Facebook:  @Winona LaDuke Honor the Earth
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