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Results and Findings

Penta Wood Products, a wood treating company, operated from 1953 through 1992. The Penta Wood Products, 8682 State Highway 70, is 2 miles west of the Village of Siren in the township of Daniels, Burnett County (See Appendix D, figure 1).

Now inactive, the company treated wooden posts and utility poles. Much of the liquid waste from the treatment processes were disposed into two lagoons and on wood chips piled at the northwest and northern edges of the property. Some wastes were inadvertently spilled on the ground at various locations throughout the property. The wastes affected an estimated 80 acres of the total 144-acre Penta Wood property. Beginning in 1986, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) documented uncontrolled spills at Penta Wood Products. In 1992, the company closed because financial difficulties kept them from complying with federal and state environmental regulations. When the company closed, tanks, drums and open vats of chemicals were abandoned at the site. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that as much as 110,000 cubic yards of soil were contaminated with wood treatment chemicals. Because of the environmental threat to the wetlands and the human exposure threat from contact with site chemicals, EPA initiated a removal action in 1994. The EPA proposed adding the Penta Wood Products site to the NPL (a.k.a. Superfund) on October 2, 1995.

In November 1993, the DOH provided a health consultation on Penta Wood Products to environmental agency staff (Appendix A). The purpose of the consultation was to examine available environmental sampling data of chemicals found on the property, evaluate the human health implications of these chemicals, and provide input on the selection of the proposed removal actions.

Nature and Extent of Contamination

Past waste disposal practices at Penta Wood Products resulted in significant soil and groundwater contamination. Refer to the consultation (Appendix A) for a complete summary of Penta Wood operating practices and environmental sampling data collected prior to 1993.

The site was contaminated with wood treatment chemicals, of which pentachlorophenol (PCP) ammonia, copper, zinc, and arsenic (ACZA) are the chemicals of concern. Because of the environmental threat to the wetlands and the human exposure threat from contact with site chemicals, EPA planned a removal action. Their removal addressed the most significant public health threats posed by accessible chemicals, sludge, and contaminated soil. Throughout the process, the DOH has consulted on the health implications of levels of contamination found at the site.

In 1994 and 1995, the EPA removed contaminated oil and sludge from the Penta Wood property. According to an EPA fact sheet, 102 drums of PCP, arsenic, zinc, copper and chrome sludge were removed. They excavated and decontaminated underground storage tanks, treated water from decontamination, and removed and mixed with concrete 4000 cubic yards of ACZA-contaminated soil. By mixing soil with concrete EPA stabilized the contaminants while constructing a treatment pad that will be used in the future for bioremediation of wood chips. Anticipating future cleanup, they set up several test mixtures for evaluation of remediation of PCP-contaminated soil and wood chips. There is evidence that contaminants may have washed northeast off the site toward a wetland. In order to restrict runoff and movement of contaminants from the site, the EPA constructed berms and retention ponds.

Potential Pathways

The two most significant pathways for exposure to site chemicals are dermal contact with residual chemicals in surface media and future ingestion of contaminated groundwater.

Dermal Contact: The EPA constructed a partial fence and displayed warning signs to reduce trespassing on this site. However, residual levels of contamination exist at the surface of this site which enables possible human exposure through dermal contact or accidental ingestion of contaminated soil particles. We do not have enough data to evaluate whether exposure to residual chemicals poses a public health hazard.

The 1993 health consultation evaluated pathways of human exposure to site-related contaminants and identified short-term and long-term health hazards associated with the site. It included a detailed evaluation of the health implications associated with exposure to PCP, arsenic and dioxins. Although no current exposures were identified, the consult concluded that the levels of PCP and arsenic in site soils posed a public health hazard. (See Appendix A)

Future Ingestion: Directly below the former seepage lagoon, levels of PCP in groundwater were reported as high as 39,000 ppb. Three residences are within 200 feet south and east of the plant. Private wells providing drinking water to residences adjacent to the property, were tested for contaminants in 1993, and none were detected. Groundwater appears to flow north or northeast from the site, which is away from the closest private wells. In that direction, the nearest buildings are approximately 1 mile away (See Appendix D, figure 2).

Data Gaps

At this writing, the DOH and ATSDR have not received recent results of private well sampling that we recommended in a previous consultation. We are also without data that describes the residual contamination left at the site after the removal. Without that information we are unable to determine if the site currently poses a significant public health hazard. The EPA is planning to complete a Remedial Investigation for this site that will define the extent and migration of the groundwater contamination.

Community Interactions

Since 1992, the DOH and the other agencies provided information to citizens about the contaminants of concern, their location, and the health effects associated with exposure to the chemicals. Through personal interviews, citizens have expressed their concerns and provided input into the health assessment process. In addition to attending public meetings, DOH has contacted Town of Daniels community leaders, providing them with information about services available from the DOH and ATSDR and public health issues associated with Penta Wood Products.

Community Concerns

During community interviews in 1995, people expressed to DOH a variety of concerns. Their primary health concern is that nearby water supply wells remain safe. Citizens are also concerned about the eventual use of the site. Seeing the amounts of money being spent on the site, they fear the investigative process will prevent the site from being restored to productive use and that the community will be left with an untaxable piece of property. Being very practical people, they are skeptical about the amount of money being spent to investigate the contamination. They are further frustrated because the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is buying nearby farmland to reroute Highway 70 in order to avoid contaminated soil (even though the site is being cleaned up). A few residents reported health conditions that they believe may be associated with past exposure to chemicals while working at Penta Wood Products. They reported illnesses that include skin cancer, neurologic problems with muscular pain, and emphysema. Other citizens denied that anyone had health problems from working at the plant.


Selected demographic information for the Siren Zip Code that includes the site, is presented in Appendix C. The total population of the area is 2,502 of mostly white individuals (97%). Over 75% of the population is over the age of 18 and the average family income is $23,329. Most of the citizens of Daniels obtain their water from residential wells, which have so far remained unaffected by site contaminants. Because of the distance (2 miles) between the site and the Village of Siren, it is unlikely that drinking water in the village will be affected by site contaminants.

Comparison of Morbidity and Mortality Data

Because only a limited number of workers have been exposed to site-related chemicals (our information shows 25-30 employees at closing in a very sparsely populated area), we would be unable to conduct meaningful comparisons of morbidity and mortality data that may be associated with the observed levels of exposure. Instead, in 1994, DOH contacted area physicians with information about the site and provided them with ATSDR case studies on arsenic and pentachlorophenol exposure assessment. In that way, physicians would be better able to diagnose and treat symptoms that may be associated with past exposure to site chemicals. Area physicians were identified through the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing, using zip codes for a 5-county area around the site.

Health Professional Involvement

Over the past 4 years DOH has involved local health professionals (physicians and public health professionals) in a number of ways. Responding to past occupational exposure, physicians were provided with the information mentioned above and were invited to attend a public meeting which was held on March 29, 1994. Since 1992, we have updated and involved staff from the Burnett County Health Department in the health assessment process and community interactions. Health department staff provide a number of services that are significant in the assessment of public health. For the benefit of the community they 1) are accessible to the public to address community health concerns, 2) attend public informational meetings 3) review public information documents, and 4) provide input on community health concerns.

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