The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on Friday issued an emergency order and warned of prosecution for the developers of The Community Within the Corridor (CWC) after more than 100 people were evacuated from the northside Milwaukee development more than a week ago.
The Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) on March 25 issued an order to evacuate around 150 people from the east block of the affordable housing development from N. 32nd and Center Streets. Prior to the order, the DNR found high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) in residential spaces and quickly alerted the health department, officials said. TCE is a known carcinogen used in industrial degreasing.
The DNR gave developers Minnesota-based Roers Companies and Milwaukee-based Scott Crawford, Inc. two days to document their vapor mitigation system, including maps and data collected to-date. DNR officials sought previously unsubmitted documentation of excavation of contaminated soil within the building’s footprint. The developers have 45 days to report the outcome of their mitigation efforts.
The order is enforceable through prosecution by the Attorney General, DNR documents showed.
“Wis. Admin. Code § 728.09(1) authorizes the DNR to “issue emergency orders without prior hearing, pursuant to s. 292.11(7)(c), Stats., to the person or persons responsible for a hazardous substance discharge, for the purpose of protecting public health, safety, or welfare.” The emergency order becomes effective upon issuance of the order to the responsible party,” the order states.
Because the developers at CWC own the property, Wisconsin law places the responsibility of remediating TCE levels at their feet.
Wisconsin law said, “A person who possesses or controls a hazardous substance which is discharged or who causes the discharge of a hazardous substance shall take the actions necessary to restore the environment to the extent practicable and minimize the harmful effects from the discharge to the air, lands or waters of this state.”
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) advised the DNR to take action when indoor air TCE levels are above a certain level and when “women of child-bearing age” are present, as exposure can cause birth defects.
“When TCE is the contaminant of concern, DHS advises that ‘indoor air should always be evaluated to assist with risk assessment and be able to interrupt exposures as soon as possible to sensitive populations,’” according to the order.
The DNR in 2020 had requested the Corridor’s developers use vapor mitigation systems and take samples after the redevelopment was completed, the order showed. People moved into the Corridor in July of 2022. The developer was aware of TCE in the soil and groundwater left behind by underground tanks during the development’s factory days.
DNR officials in December of 2022 warned the Corridor’s developers about a plan to commission to the vapor mitigation system, DNR email showed. DNR hydrogeologist Jane K. Pfeiffer said the agency strongly recommended CWC to complete “all necessary rounds of commissioning prior to any occupancy.”
“As the DNR recommended for the Community Within the Corridor – West Block site… in consideration of public health, safety, and welfare, the DNR strongly recommends completing all necessary rounds of commissioning prior to any occupancy to avoid potentially exposing future residents to indoor air contamination that may present acute health risks. Commissioning provides the data needed to demonstrate that the vapor pathway has been mitigated or interrupted, which is a requirement for case closure under Wis. Admin. Code § NR 726.05(8). Given that the building has not yet been occupied by residents, the DNR strongly encourages you to complete full system commissioning prior to occupancy to demonstrate that the vapor pathways have been successfully mitigated or interrupted to prevent potentially exposing future residents to health risks associated with the COCs that exist at this site,” according to Pfeiffer’s email.
As previously reported by The Daily Reporter, DNR officials said they weren’t notified of people living in the East Block until March 22. A statement from Scott Crawford, Inc. and Roers Companies called the increase of TCE levels unexpected.
The DNR is coordinating CWC’s consultant KSingh & Associates during their remediation effort. Emails between engineers, developers and DNR officials are available on the agency’s website.