MARINETTE — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) received a site investigation (SI) plan from Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) and its subsidiary Tyco Fire Products LP Nov. 15 – a Friday.

Then on Tuesday, Nov. 19, just four days after the plan’s submission, a few ambiguous reports appeared to state that the DNR had rejected Tyco’s plan.

However, as of Thanksgiving Day, the DNR officials informed the EagleHerald that it still had not issued a final decision regarding the acceptance or rejection of the SI plan; and such a definitive decision probably lies a few weeks out.

Tyco submitted the plan in response to a DNR request concerning the further investigation of 16 fields which, over the course of three decades and unbeknownst to City of Marinette officials, received biosolids contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

That contamination resulted from the discharge of PFAS-containing firefighting foams from JCI and Tyco facilities in Marinette, first revealed in the later part of 2017 when Tyco initially informed the DNR and the city (see “Marinette PFAS biosolids background” information sidebar).

According to the department’s Northeast Region Program Manager for Remediation and Redevelopment Roxanne Chronert, approval or rejection of such SI plans takes time. The process is not so cut and dry and some nuance exists as one step in the process determines the next.

When asked directly about the potential rejection or approval of the plan, Chronert underscored the importance of the evaluation process. She stated it was much too early in progression of the department’s examination of Tyco’s plan for any definitive answer.

“It’s a little premature for me to answer that question,” she said. “We still need to review it and we will then be (discussing) our response.”

CURRENT STAGE OF PROGRESS

Submittal and initiation of any SI plan follows various steps set down in the Wisconsin Administrative Code NR-700, which the DNR and responsible parties utilize for remediation and redevelopment of contaminated sites. Lengthy and detailed, the code facilitates the legal procedures for the identification, investigation and remediation of sites and facilities where contamination occurred. The process proceeds along a well-established timeline with various signposts detailing the management of each consecutive phase by responsible parties like JCI and Tyco.

Chronert briefly explained where in the process timeline Tyco’s SI plan currently resides:

Tyco submitted the plan Nov. 15. Additionally, Tyco has informed the DNR it will be submitting an optional review fee. The fee entitles Tyco to receive additional detailed feedback and technical assistance from the DNR regarding various elements of the plan and throughout the process.

Upon receiving the fee, the DNR will have 60 days to review the plan and provide comments to Tyco. Following the receipt of those comments, Tyco has another 60 days to revise and implement the plan, which in this case puts the targeted date of the plan’s actual implementation somewhere in early spring of 2020.

“The whole process moves along that way,” Chronert said. “And it is self-implementing, so (JCI and Tyco) keep it moving (forward).”

Jeffery Lamont, who holds a master’s degree in water resource engineering and a bachelor of science in geology, spent 28 years working for one of the largest environmental firms in the world. The last 20 years of his career, he assisted the Department of Defense, EPA and several private clients across the United States in addressing site clean-ups where massive environmental contamination occurred. He remains a staunch supporter of setting stricter federal guidelines for PFAS compounds.

“I reviewed the cover letter and the work plan from a technical perspective and saw no real issues,” he said. “But I imagine (the DNR) will also look at (the plan) from a legal perspective.”

During an October PFAS Listening Session at the Marinette Community REC Center, the DNR’s Director of Remediation & Redevelopment Christine Haag emphasized and differentiated between the legal responsibilities of the DNR and those of JCI/Tyco as they relate to the site investigation. She said that JCI/Tyco bear the legal responsibility to conduct the necessary steps related to the site investigation.

“(The DNR’s) job is to oversee (JCI and Tyco’s) fielding of their site investigation and, eventually, their cleanup activities to make sure it is in compliance with the law,” Haag said.

ONLY THE BEGINNING AND ‘OTHER’ PFAS SOURCES

Also important to note, Tyco’s SI plan only represents the beginning of the remediation and redevelopment process. Phase 1 of the plan involves thorough investigation of “other” potential biosolids contamination sources. On various occasions, statements from both JCI and Tyco have contended that Tyco does not represent the only responsible party for PFAS contamination in the Marinette area.

“This is not an issue isolated to Tyco,” stated a reply to an October correspondence between the EagleHerald and Tyco. “There are numerous other manufacturers in the Marinette region that potentially contributed to the contamination.”

Vice President, Environmental, Health & Safety for JCI John Perkins agreed with that statement in the cover letter he penned on behalf of Tyco when the SI plan was submitted in November.

In the letter, Perkins stated that the DNR “has repeatedly acknowledged there are many potential sources of PFAS that may be present on the identified fields.”

Past statements from the DNR add some credence to Perkins’ assertion. In October, Haag stated that a number of areas of concern exist in Marinette when it comes to historic PFAS environmental discharge. Those areas include the JCI/Tyco Stanton Street campus, the Fire Technology Center, as well as ChemDesign Products Inc., which leases property from JCI on Stanton Street.