The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said the former refinery site at the intersection of U.S. Highway 53 and Ugstad Road is ready to be deleted from the federal Superfund National Priorities List, closing a cleanup process that started in 1977.
“The agency has determined that cleanup is now complete, and no further action is necessary,” the EPA said in announcing the move.
From 1945 to 1976, the company’s refining operation — the plant recycled used and waste oil — generated a waste stream of highly acidic, metal-laden sludge. The company recycled some to be reused and illegally dumped the rest — millions of gallons of heavy gunk — into a swamp outside the plant.
The swamp turned into a toxic lagoon in which everything — trees, frogs and birds — died from the soup of oils, heavy metals, acids, cyanide, phenols, PCBs and more. From up close, the smell was unbearable. On the pH scale from 1 to 14, the lagoon registered 1, the most acidic possible.
State regulators shut the operation down in 1977, and the 10-acre site was added to the federal Superfund list in 1984. The EPA sued Arrowhead and 15 major suppliers of waste materials delivered there. But the defendants then sued some 250 small businesses, many of them service stations, that brought waste oil to the site. The massive lawsuit took six years to settle and was often cited as a national example of why the government and accused polluters should strive to form cleanup agreements outside the courtroom.
Eventually $40 million was spent to clean up the pollution, starting in the mid-1990s, with much of the dumped petroleum products — more than 1 million gallons — recovered and recycled. More than 71,000 tons of material was removed from the site. Groundwater near the site has since shown no major pollution, and water pumped from the site itself was piped to the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District to be treated until 2007, when it was deemed that was no longer necessary. Nearby homeowners and businesses with wells were linked to a municipal water line.
The site is currently being used for commercial purposes with a medical equipment rental company office on part of the property and the remainder of the site an open field.
The EPA will take public comments on the move to delete Arrowhead refinery for the Superfund list until June 14 at regulations.gov/document/EPA-HQ-SFUND-2005-0011-0181 or emailed to [email protected]. For more information on the site, go to epa.gov/superfund/arrowhead-refinery and to see the final report, go to semspub.epa.gov/work/05/964835.pdf.