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EPA announces new phase in cleanup at former Velsicol plant

A map of the planned excavation from an EPA factsheet

The former Velsicol Chemical Company plant is the site of the infamous 1973 mix-up that resulted in the chemical PBB getting into the food supply. The plant is now entering a new stage of cleanup that should reduce contamination.

As part of the newest cleanup phase at the former Velsicol plant in St. Louis, Michigan, agencies are preparing to excavate approximately 100,000 tons of contaminated soil and materials from the property.

Tom Alcomo is the EPA’s remedial project manager for the Superfund site. He said excavation will go nearly 30 feet into the ground and remove contaminants like DDT and chlorobenzene. Contaminated soil will be transported offsite for proper disposal.

“This material that we're excavating is extremely contaminated, so we're trying to get that out of the site area, and then this will help in the long term with our groundwater treatment system,” Alcomo said.

Alcomo estimates another 5-8 years of work before the entire site is fully cleaned up, but he says remediation is “accelerating” thanks to more federal funding like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“There’s just a lot of things happening in St. Louis right now in terms of cleanup of contamination,” Alcomo said. “We still have a long way to go, but it's been pretty exciting to be able to begin to clean up on the plant side and get a number of these remedy components complete.”

Excavation will begin this spring and should be completed in 2024. Clean backfill will replace the excavated area and then be covered with an impermeable cap.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.