Study reveals contaminants

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2002

Some of the contamination of the old Farmland Plant site results from an excessive amount of pollutants, according to an environmental consultant’s survey.

Jill C. Mickelson, Project Manager of SEH, reported the result of a limited Phase II environmental study in a workshop of the Albert Lea Planning Commission.

According to the study, the soil and groundwater at the northwest side of the plant, along the Channel River near a railroad bridge, contain an amount of No. 5 fuel oil that exceeds the standard by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

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Mickelson suggested a fuel tank installed in 1948 by Wilson Co. might be the cause. The tank was connected with another tank at the boiler facility through an underground pipeline, and there could be spills and leaks from piping and loading operations.

Another finding was contamination by chemical solvents near the maintenance building located at the west side of the plant. The substances are paint chemicals, which are heavier than water.

A former cleaning facility area close to the corner of East Main Street and Garfield Avenue also has excessive contamination by dry-cleaning solvents.

“Those are above the level of what the state likes to see,” said Mickelson. He suggested that the removal of soil by excavating would be eventually necessary.

The survey also detected other contaminants, such as fuel oil in the boiler and old auto-shop area on Garfield Avenue, metal at northern front of the plant and the maintenance building area. But they could be dropped to an acceptable level through soil treatments, according to Mickelson.

The survey started by examining the past use of the site, going back to when Albert Lea Packing Co. moved into the area in 1912. A team of researchers gathered every possible piece of information to identify what structures existed on the site and what kind of activities took place.

One of the concerns was contamination of the riverbed of the old Channel River. The river used to run east of the current stream, through the plant site. Discharged pollutants might be carried and accumulated as sediments. But so far, no evidence is found to support that theory.

The southwest section of the plant takes up the northern part of a small peninsula in Albert Lea Lake and used to be a dumping site for the plant. But no significant environment hazards were detected in that location after 15-foot deep excavation surveys.

Farmland stored various types of toxic materials, some of which were inherited from former plant operators. But Mickelson said the company stored them properly and no evidence of spills was observed.

The Phase II study was halted last year because of concerns about safely conducting the survey in the dilapidated buildings. The resumption of the survey needs to wait for the demolition, which will occur once Farmland resolves the insurance claim.

The city won a court order to remove the structure earlier this year. But a state law requires giving the property owner 270 days before enforcing the order and the city has been holding off on active enforcement of the demolition order in order to give the company and its insurers a chance to settle the claims on the plant.