Eau Claire prepares to clean up decades old contamination - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Eau Claire prepares to clean up decades old contamination

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Pollution that goes back several decades near Eau Claire's wastewater treatment plant will be cleaned up.

The calm backwater near I-94 of the Chippewa River packs quite a punch of environmental hazards.

"The problem contaminants are heavy metals.  Things like lead, arsenic, chromium," says DNR hydrogeologist Doug Joseph.

Deposited decades ago from some of Eau Claire's manufacturing plants into the Chippewa River south of the wastewater treatment plant.

"Most of this came from an industrial scenario.  There were many, many industries in town back in the 40's and 50's and we didn't have secondary treatment," says Joseph.

"There were no standards at that time for businesses and how they could dispose of industrial waste.  So it's a pretty isolated small area," says City of Eau Claire risk manager, Colleen Schian.

The city and DNR have known about the site since the 70's but a current construction project allows them to finally roll in the heavy equipment for a cleanup.

"We're looking at winter.  We're in the process of finalizing things with the DNR and then we will work on the bid process from there," says Schian.

The remediation recently became a higher priority after the city cleaned up another site at Owen Park.

"The reason I think it wasn't a high priority was because public health officials and state officials always told us that it never posed a public health risk," says Schian.

"The biggest risk concern here is for the aquatic environment not the public health environment.  We've got a public health risk, but we've kind of isolated the public from that area," adds Joseph.

Once the more than 6,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment is removed it will be hauled to a landfill and these waters will be clear and pure.

The cleanup is part of the city's $49 million improvement project at the wastewater treatment plant. 

The dredging and hauling will take place in the winter when water levels are lower and it's easier to get heavy equipment to the site.

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