The St. Regis Superfund site is in a small town in the middle of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota, and cleanup of the contamination has been unresolved since 1984.
The contamination was created by the St. Regis paper company's wood treatment practices in the late 1950s. At that time, St. Regis treated utility poles with creosote. The wood treatment plant is gone now, but it was located on 125 acres between Cass Lake and Pike Bay on Leech Lake. This area included residential neighborhoods. The wood treatment practices left the area contaminated with arsenic and dioxin.
For several decades the sludge from the wood treatment processes was dumped in disposal ponds, buried, or burned. Children living in the neighborhood walked through the area to get to school. These same kids swam in the ponds and played in the vacant lots where the sludge was disposed of. Nobody was warned that it was dangerous. There were no fences or other security marking the property as hazardous. It will come as no surprise that the local hospital's clinical director has stated that there are higher than average rates of cancer and some immune system diseases in the community.
Last year tribal leaders increased their pressure on the EPA to do more detailed investigations. The Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), recently announced that whitefish caught in Pike Bay on Leech Lake and in Cass Lake show dioxin levels 10 times higher than fish caught on other area lakes. Dr. Milton Clark, health and science adviser for the EPA, stated that frequent consumption of whitefish would be "risky".
Keep in mind that Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tribal members have the right to net whitefish, and it is a staple of many local families' diets. The EPA now recommends that people consume no more than 12 meals of whitefish per year. Due to traditional practices and economic realities, many people here eat whitefish several times per week.
The EPA named the area a Superfund site in 1984. During that same year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, (MPCA), took over the site. At that time, the MPCA advised the current owner, Champion International, to install a groundwater treatment plant. Champion International also built a containment vault, in which to store contaminated soil.
Since being "upgraded" to the EPA's priority list in 1985, cleanup efforts have included removing several inches of topsoil, and removing carpets and dust from inside the houses in the affected area. These measures were considered "interim actions" until a permanent cleanup plan can be approved.
This has been going on for over 20 years! There are 30 homes within the boundaries of the Superfund site. As of July 15, 2012, the EPA has yet to develop and implement an effective cleanup plan.
This particular Superfund site is in the town of Cass Lake, Minnesota. Cass Lake is a small town with a population of 770, located within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. 64% of Cass Lake's population is Native American, and approximately 30% of the population lives under the federal poverty line.
This contamination has been present for generations, and has affected a population that is also beset by poverty and systemic racism. It's long past time for the EPA to step up and do right by these people.