St. Louis Park residents concerned about toxic chemicals

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After it opened in 1917, the Reilly Tar Company in St. Louis Park, which was also know was the Republic Creosoting Company, churned out creosote, a chemical used to preserve wood products like rail road ties. However, while the company was humming along, it was also churning out a toxic chemical sludge that was dumped into a nearby pond that flowed into a peat bog before heading to the aquifer. This dumping, which was practiced at will for many years, now has residents taking action and hoping to get answers about a possible cancer cluster.

In 1972 the company closed, leaving behind a legacy of toxic chemicals in the local water supply neighbors say is responsible for causing a variety of cancers. Shortly after the factory closed the Environmental Protection Agency declared the area a Superfund Site. As the years went on the contaminated soil was covered up, and today the 80 acres just north of Highway 7, and west of Louisiana Avenue has been redeveloped into condominiums, soccer fields, and a park.

This past summer, during construction of a pedestrian bridge over Louisiana Ave. neighbors began to notice a noxious asphalt-like smell was hanging in the air. They also noticed a sticky, black tar-like substance in the dirt. What was being uncovered was the nearly century old toxins, a class of carcinogenic chemicals known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (P.A.H.).

St. Louis Park resident Barb Waller started a Facebook group called “The St. Louis Park Cancer Cluster” and began tracking self-reported cases in and around the city. To date she has tracked 564 cases which she represents with a dot on a map of the city.

The number one cancer is brain cancer, followed by breast cancer, and colon cancer," Waller said.

Danielle Jo Harding is represented by one of those dots. She grew up a few miles from Riley Tar and says a few of high school classmates are also on the map. Her doctor has no explanation.

"I have thyroid cancer and was diagnosed in 1992," Harding said. "I could've had it since I was a kid. I asked him what could have caused it, and he said anything, air, water.”

The EPA is less than reassuring. The agency telling the Fox 9 Investigators, the most recent ground water tests showed "P.A.H.'s remain present in both shallow and deep aquifers at the site. Where the Reilly contamination affects drinking water wells at levels that may impact health, the groundwater is treated before use."

47,000 people use groundwater from aquifers near the site and that water is tested every four months by and independent private lab. So far, all of the tests have come back showing safe levels of P.A.H.

The Fox 9 Investigators obtained more than a thousand pages of reports which show significant concerns too.  A half-dozen wells have been shut down because of contamination, and the level of toxin has varied wildly over the last 20 years. Scientists are also concerned the contamination is going deeper and deeper into the aquifers. 

Vapor intrusion into nearby homes is another concern, the EPA calculating the cancer risk at 1 in a 1,000,000, but 1 in 10,000 for a few chemicals contaminating the area -- the upper limit of acceptable risk. 

The EPA is currently doing some computer modeling of the aquifers. It is believed some of the contamination may even stretch into Hopkins and Edina’s water supply but the EPA stresses that would be at safe levels. 

Thursday’s meeting with the EPA and State Health Department is at 6 p.m. at the Rec Center Banquet room in St. Louis Park.