From 1917 until 1972, Reilly Industries operated Republic Creosoting Company, a coal tar distillation and creosote wood preserving plant, on an 80-acre site in St. Louis Park. Today, the site near Louisiana Avenue and Walker Street is home to condos and townhouses, a restaurant and bowling alley, an office building and a recreational park with athletic fields, walking paths, recreation center, pond and playground. The journey from industrial site to its current, useable state was a long and complex one.
From 1917 until 1939, wastes containing coal tar and its distillation byproducts were discharged directly into a ditch that ran the length of the site. These wastes then flowed into a peat bog on the southern portion of the site. An oil-water separator was installed in 1940, but Republic Creosoting Company continued to discharge contaminated waste into the peat bog for the duration of the company's operations at the site.
The soil elsewhere on the site also became contaminated from coal tar and creosote that dripped from leaky pipes, various process materials that spilled during transport and creosote wood preserving chemicals that washed off freshly treated lumber. Historical records suggest there were more than a dozen wells on the site, with depths varying from 50 to more than 900 feet. Over time, creosote and waste materials likely seeped down several of these wells (either directly from the surface or via multi-aquifer transfer) and contaminated the groundwater.
CITY INVOLVEMENT AND OWNERSHIP
The City of St. Louis Park bought the site from Reilly Industries in 1972. At the time, the state of Minnesota was suing Reilly Industries over pollution discharge issues. The sales agreement included a "hold harmless" clause for soil and water impurities, partially indemnifying Reilly Industries from liability. By this time, creosote and creosote wastes had migrated directly into four underlying aquifers, contaminating the groundwater with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are a group of chemicals created by the incomplete burning of organic materials like coal, oil, gas and garbage. The contaminants eventually spread to private wells and municipal ground water sources.
After acquiring the site in 1972, the city demolished the Republic Creosoting Company buildings and over the next decade built residential buildings on the northern end of the site. A major north-south boulevard, Louisiana Avenue, and storm water drainage improvements were also built.
In 1978, the state of Minnesota shut down several public drinking water wells in the vicinity of the site, and the city instituted a water conservation program due to daily shortages of clean, drinkable water. In 1979, 28 multi-aquifer wells were either reconstructed or abandoned to prevent the spread of contamination in ground water. By the time, many community residents had become extremely concerned with the quality of the drinking water.
To understand the cleanup of water at the Reilly site, it’s useful to know the difference between a drinking water well and a source control well.
- Drinking water wells that are part of the Reilly cleanup pump large volumes of water that is treated before use. St. Louis Park drinking water wells are identified by the letters “SLP.”
- Source control wells are used to pump and treat groundwater and control the spread of the contamination and can be identified by the letter “W” before the number. Water from source control wells is treated and discharged into either the sanitary sewer or into Minnehaha Creek - NOT into the drinking water system.
In 1982, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided funds to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to clean out two contaminated wells. The site was listed on the National Priorities List in 1983. In 1984, a record of decision was issued requiring Reilly Industries, the potentially responsible party, to build a granular-activated carbon (GAC) treatment plant for two existing contaminated municipal wells (SLP 10 and SLP 15) and assist with containing the contaminant plume from reaching other municipal wells by building a source control system in the upper aquifers.
Reilly Industries eventually came forward with a practical, cost-effective remediation plan that expedited the cleanup and reuse process. Reilly's plan led to a settlement of the lawsuit over liability and a 1986 agreement between all parties for remediating the site. Under the settlement, the city agreed to share the responsibility for operating and maintaining the municipal water treatment plants and performing long-term ground water monitoring. The city regularly takes water quality samples from a large network of groundwater monitoring wells. EPA, MPCA and MDH oversee the city’s groundwater monitoring and ensure treatment remains effective.
The Reilly plant was demolished in 1972 and the site was leveled. Anecdotal evidence suggests the city brought in topsoil in order to establish grass and the Reilly Site was used as a park as soon as the creosote plant was gone. This early topsoil cover, and subsequent soil cover brought in more recently, was tapered to meet the grade established by a lined storm water pond, by Louisiana Avenue north of Walker Street and by other paved areas at the site.
Volume and thickness of this original soil cover are unknown, but an exposure of the fill near well W23 was described in ERTs 1983 Reilly Site report (Appendix B, page B13). That description included approximately six inches of topsoil overlying soil containing obvious contamination.
Based on observations during the 2015 trail construction project, and a visual reconnaissance of the site as a whole, the soil cover is not less than six inches and is more typically one to two feet thick throughout the Reilly site, with the exception of the athletic fields and an area known as “Mount Reilly” (southwest corner of site). See soil cover map.
- The soil cover placed on the athletic fields in 2002 exceeds three feet in thickness. The fields are equipped with irrigation systems and lighting. The borings excavated for light standards showed three feet or more of soil cover at every location. The fields were constructed to promote drainage for the irrigation systems and provide optimum growing conditions for the field turf
- The city’s November 14, 1978, Status Report to the MPCA stated that 60,000 cubic yards of soil was relocated to the southwest corner of the Reilly site from northern portions of the site. The relocated soil contained obvious contamination that was not suitable for construction of the condominium building and the mound of relocated soil became known as “Mount Reilly.” Review of a 1982 air photo and topographical map (ERT, 1983) showed a mound about 15 feet high, with an area of about 7500 square yards. The 60,000 cubic yard volume of relocated soil would create an amount approximately six to eight feet high over 7500 square yards; therefore, the 15-foot height in 1982 likely included an appreciable thickness of soil cover. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that routine additions to the soil cover were made to fight erosion. In 2012, a significant addition was made to the northern and northeastern flanks of Mt. Reilly when soil from the St. Louis Park High School football field was brought to the site. This project added more than three feet of fill in some areas; the fill was tapered to meet the existing grade of nearby asphalt walking paths.
The only place on the Reilly site where there is no fill to cover the ground surface that was left after demolition of the creosote plant is the tree-covered mound in the central portion of the site, where the plant office building was located. A stone curb is visible at that location. The city has top-dressed all other portions of the site to establish a vegetative cover.
The private owners of residential properties at the Reilly site weren’t contacted to determine if any additions to the soil cover were made on those properties. If nothing else, the housing added to the extent of impermeable cover at the site.
It’s estimated that approximately 25 acres or 30% of the Reilly site is covered by impermeable cover in the form of streets, driveways, parking areas, asphalt paths, buildings, and the lined stormwater pond.
(Information provided by Bill Gregg, a professional geologist and a program manager in the St. Paul, Minn., office of Summit Envirosolutions. He has more than 38 years of experience in completing environmental assessment and remediation projects worldwide. Mr. Gregg was the program manager for two Remedial Investigations and Feasibility Studies and related projects at the Reilly Superfund site. He assisted the City of St. Louis Park with the redevelopment and maintenance of portions of the site.)
Redeveloping this property was important to the city's growth as a Minneapolis suburb, primarily because St. Louis Park has little land available for new construction other than previously used property. Ultimately, a strong commitment to redevelopment and a willingness to take risks by investing in a contaminated property were key factors to overcoming impediments to reuse. These efforts resulted in construction of a large apartment complex on the south end of the site and an office complex on the east side of the site.
In 2002, the city built a recreational park to complement the residential housing on the north and south ends of the site. Today, community members enjoy walking trails, a playground, athletic fields, a new recreation pavilion, and a pond that provides wildlife habitats. The site is now a place where community members can gather to enjoy the amenities the city has worked so hard to create.
ONGOING COSTS AND MONITORING
The city invests about $500,000 per year into ensuring the ongoing safety of both the water and the soil at the Reilly site. The city undertook this cost because city leaders wanted to do the right thing and ensure that the site was cleaned up and taken care of properly.
EPA conducts five-year reviews of the site to determine if the remedy for the site still protects people and the environment. The reviews identify issues and recommend how to resolve them. Four five-year reviews have been done so far: in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011, with the fifth set for 2016. Recommended actions have been completed or are in progress, and EPA has determined that the cleanup is still working.
Any work that involves digging in contaminated areas of the Reilly site must first be approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and EPA. Work plans must include safe handling of any waste or contaminated soil that’s found and air monitoring to protect workers and nearly residents if waste or contaminated soil is encountered.
In the summer of 2015, a pedestrian bridge and trail were installed at Louisiana Oaks Park along Louisiana Avenue. Although mitigation of the site was completed many years ago, this new project raised questions among residents and as a result the EPA, MDH, MPCA and the city held a public meeting in November 2015 to address residents’ concerns and answer questions about the site. Documents from this meeting are below.
In March 2016 the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) released a report that provides an accurate and complete profile on cancer occurrence among St. Louis Park residents. This detailed study encompasses 20 years of cancer data and firmly establishes that overall cancer incidence and mortality rates in St. Louis Park are virtually identical to cancer rates in the Twin Cities Metro area. A link to the report is below.
Q: Is the drinking water in St. Louis Park safe?
A: YES! The drinking water in St. Louis Park is safe. Providing safe drinking water is the most important public duty we as a city have to our residents, and we take that duty very seriously.
St. Louis Park's drinking water is regularly tested and must meet the drinking water standards set by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, a requirement of any public water system. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) enforces these drinking water standards for public water supplies in Minnesota. MDH enforcement is based on the regular testing and monitoring of drinking water from public water supplies. Results of this testing are available to each consumer through an annual consumer confidence report which is distributed via mail each year to every household in St. Louis Park, and is available on the city website.
Although it is not necessary to use additional filtration methods in your home, several different filtration systems can be purchased at home improvement stores or water filtration/supply companies. The Minnesota Department of Health offers valuable tips on choosing a water filtration system and avoiding deceptive sales practices.
In October 2016 the MDH released a drinking water report intended to provide and explain drinking water quality data in St. Louis Park.
Q: The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recently announced that a review has prompted changes to their water sampling procedures. What effect does that have on St. Louis Park's water sampling results?
A: In its news release, MDH stated, "The concern involves the holding temperature of water samples taken to determine the presence of organic chemicals, such as fertilizers, solvents and common household chemicals. The issue also potentially involves samples taken to determine the presence of inorganic compounds for which holding temperature may be an issue-specifically, cyanide and nitrite (a substance related to but not identical to nitrate).
Levels of nitrate and nitrite in St. Louis Park water are consistently far below acceptable limits so any sampling issues wouldn't affect the water residents drink. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a part of the sampling issue announced by MDH; fortunately, the City of St. Louis Park conducts its own quarterly VOC sampling of its water. Those quarterly samplings were performed correctly with proper holding temperatures by city staff and Minnesota Valley Testing and consistently show VOCs within acceptable limits, so again any sampling issues at MDH wouldn't affect residents' drinking water. It's important to note that the presence of VOCs in the water supply is not unique to St. Louis Park; a few other metro cities also employ treatment methods for VOCs. A September 2015 MDH news release briefly touched on this, and showed another case where St. Louis Park's independent testing was useful in ensuring VOC levels were within acceptable limits. St. Louis Park residents can be assured that when they turn on their tap they are receiving safe water that is carefully monitored and tested.
Q: Is vapor intrusion a concern at the site?
A: Between 2011 and 2014, EPA conducted an extensive study into possible vapor intrusion from site contamination on properties on and near the site. Vapor intrusion occurs when chemicals, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), in groundwater give off dangerous gases that can seep into buildings through foundation cracks and holes, causing unsafe indoor air pollution. EPA and its contractors took samples from indoor air, soil gas beneath the basements and foundations and background soil gas samples off-site. This sampling showed no danger to people from vapor intrusion. Any contamination detected in indoor air was below or within EPA’s acceptable ranges.
The Minnesota Department of Health provides information about vapor intrusion.
Q: The city hosts edible gardens at the Reilly site. Is produce from the gardens safe to eat?
A: In 2015, two edible garden beds were planted at Louisiana Oaks Park. These gardens were planted in raised beds that contained additional fill above the ground. All plants in the beds were standard vegetable plants that, given the growing season and species of plant, would not have root growth greater than 1.5’.
However, the city has removed these garden beds and is creating a raised bed garden at the site for 2016. The new gardens will be built of cedar (not treated) planks and will be six inches off the ground with garden soil separated from existing park soil, which means plant roots will not touch the park soil beneath the boxes. A barrier isn't needed with the new gardens, since garden soils and park soils won't be in contact, but one will be added to suppress weed growth. Soil that will be added to the gardens is being tested at the University of Minnesota. Vegetables from the garden will be as safe as those grown in any other residential raised bed garden site.
Q: Where can I find all of the documents associated with the Reilly site, including the consent decree?
A: In addition to an information repository housed at St. Louis Park Library, 3240 Library Lane, St. Louis Park, the EPA also maintains an online administrative record collection. The consent decree is located within the collection,which also includes documents from the EPA, state agencies, the city, local newspapers and many other documents related to the history of the site.
Aquifer: An aquifer is a geological formation capable of yielding a significant amount of water to a drinking water well or spring. Several aquifers are underneath the Reilly Tar site: the Glacial Drift, Platteville, St. Peter, Prairie du Chien/Jordan, Ironton/Galesville and Mt. Simon/Hinkley. [Source: EPA flyer from Nov. 2015 meeting]
Vapor Intrusion: Occurs when chemicals such as volatile organic compounds in groundwater give off dangerous gases that can seep into buildings through foundation cracks and holes, causing unsafe indoor air pollution.
VOCs: volatile organic compounds
For more information about the Reilly site:
- Visit www.epa.gov/superfund/reilly-tar
- St. Louis Park Public Library, 3240 Library Lane, St. Louis Park (site files are located here for public use)
The EPA recently completed its fifth five-year review and a Community Involvement Plan for the site; document is also available below. For more information contact EPA Community Involvement Coordinator Heriberto Leon toll-free at 800.621.8431, ext. 66163, weekdays 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.epa.gov/superfund/reilly-tar for more information.
- Fifth Five-Year Review Report for Reilly Tar and Chemical Corp. (St. Louis Park Plant) Superfund Site
Most recent meetings hosted by the city included "Understanding Your Drinking Water" on June 28, 2016, and "Understanding the Reilly Superfund Site" on July 27, 2016.