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Health Risks Found at MN Superfund Site

July 31, 2003

A report recently completed by the University of Minnesota confirms concerns by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe that a federal Superfund site located along Pike Bay in Cass Lake, Minn., is not being properly remediated. Studies completed in the process of preparing the report found that both human and environmental health risks exist at the site, where a former wood preserving facility owned by St. Regis Corp. (now International Paper Co.) used to operate.

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe suspected that the site was never properly studied and that clean-up actions by St. Regis Corp. were not effective. The three-part report encompasses panel reports on groundwater conditions on the site, environmental health risks, and human health risks. Testing on the site found harmful levels of dioxins, furans, and other compounds left behind from treating wood. These chemicals are known cancer-causers.

  • The groundwater panel recommended further investigations assessing groundwater contaminant flow patterns in order to protect nearby ground and surface waters.
  • The human health risk panel urged that steps be taken to minimize exposure of children to the site. The high levels of dioxins and furans warrant closure of the area. Because tribal members have unique cultural practices and lifestyles, the panel recommended that a customized human health risk assessment be performed.
  • The ecological risk panel concluded monitoring at the site was inadequate to determine ecological impacts and that more monitoring is needed.

The project was a collaboration between the University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program, the Natural Resources Research Institute, and the Leech Lake Tribal Council. It was funded by a grant in 1998 from the U.S. EPA’s Environmental Justice Program.

“We reached out to the University and a number of experts across the nation who were able to provide an independent review of the site and give us recommendations,” said Shirley Nordrum, Leech Lake environmental director. “Our concerns were confirmed by people who don’t have a vested interest in this area, and I think the process was very valuable.”

Currently, the tribe is working with the EPA, Minnesota Department of Health, and the MPCA to negotiate with International Paper on a plan for emergency soil removal and additional soil sampling. The EPA is working with the Center for Disease Control and has promised to conduct comprehensive human health and ecological risk assessments. Sea Grant is working with Nordrum and others to better inform the community about risks associated with the site’s contamination.

“Superfund sites such as this one are incredibly complex and difficult environmental issues to deal with,” said Carl Richards, Minnesota Sea Grant director. &lqduo;We’re happy that the University was able to assist the tribe and other affected parties in focusing on the essential issues that could lead to improvement in human health and the ecological issues surrounding the site.”

The report is available on Minnesota Sea Grant’s Web site at: www.seagrant.umn.edu/water/leech.html.

For more information about this project, read this Seiche newsletter article.


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