After a year and a half of community concern and deliberation at City Hall regarding Riverside Park, on Tuesday, October 22, the Wausau City Council approved the request of Citizens for a Clean Wausau (CCW) for access to the park to take soil samples and analyze them for dioxins and furans.

Results from 2006 private soil samples near a culvert area in the park revealed Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) direct contact soil exceedances for dioxins and furans. The samples were taken in relation to a lawsuit involving WAULECO and Sentry Insurance. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit alleged that dioxin contamination stemming from the former industrial site west of the park had caused certain illnesses in the past and – in some cases – death.

Some neighborhood residents not involved in the suit learned of the historical results years later and community awareness grew.

The City of Wausau and the DNR were both made aware of the results in 2008. That same year, after reviewing the park results, a recommendation was made to the DNR by a state toxicologist working for the Department of Health Services to consider an investigation to rule out whether substantial amounts of dioxins and furans had migrated away from WAULECO and onto adjacent residential properties in the neighborhood.

That investigation appeared to have never been done.

Recently, the current City administration stated that it could not do the testing this year because it did not have the money. When Citizens for a Clean Wausau stepped up to fund three samples in the park at their own expense, the City cited concerns over liability if contamination was found as the core reason it did not want the park tested, and some City officials strongly opposed allowing testing at this time for this reason.

Nevertheless, the city council resolution to approve access for CCW to test Riverside Park passed in an 8-3 vote this week.

CCW hopes that — after the many years which have passed since the 2006 sampling — the dioxin and furan levels in the park’s soil no longer exceed state standards for residual contaminant levels. But relevant environmental testing is the only way to confirm if this is the case.