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Congressional District # 01


EPA ID# MID980794655
Last Updated: September, 2011

Site Description

The Tar Lake site is located in Mancelona Township, Antrim County, Michigan. The 200-acre Tar Lake site is a former iron works facility that operated from 1882 to 1945.  Secondary manufacturing processes on the site generated a tar waste similar to residue from still bottoms.  The tar residue was emptied into a natural surface depression on the property.  The last operator at the site was Fifty-Sixth Century, a subsidiary of Viacom International Inc.

Site Responsibility

This site is being addressed through federal, state and potentially responsible parties' actions. 

Threats and Contaminants

Ground water under the site contains benzene and 2, 4-dimethylphenol above acceptable levels.  Off site ground water contains phenols, manganese and lead.  The sludge or "tar" contains phenols and metals including iron, lead, nickel, chromium, and copper.  Touching the sludge poses an acute health hazard.  Using the contaminated groundwater for drinking or showering also poses a health risk.  Low levels of contaminants were found in residential wells and there are taste and odor problems with the groundwater. 

Cleanup Progress

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) selected a cleanup remedy for part of the site (Operable Unit 1) in a 1992 Record of Decision (ROD).  U.S. EPA's cleanup plan was to excavate the tar and the contaminated soils beneath the tar, contain the material in specially constructed cells on the site; install a temporary system to keep groundwater contaminants from spreading, and using institutional controls like land and groundwater use restrictions to prevent people from coming into contact with the contaminated material and groundwater. 

In 1993 site owner Viacom agreed to conduct the engineering design for the cleanup under an Administrative Order on Consent with U.S. EPA.  Viacom conducted additional studies and in 1995 Viacom proposed to take the excavated tar to an off site facility for reuse instead of containing it on site.  U.S. EPA agreed, and in 1998 and 1999 U.S. EPA, with partial funding from Viacom, removed 47,000 tons of tar from the site and transported it to an electrical power generating plant where it was used as fuel.  The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) also installed a temporary groundwater treatment system at the site and began providing bottled water to residents with site-related contamination in their wells above State Secondary Drinking Water Standards.

In 1999 U.S. EPA began a remedial investigation and feasibility study for the rest of the 200 acre site (Operable Unit 2).  U.S. EPA selected a cleanup remedy for this part of the site in a 2002 ROD.  U.S. EPA's cleanup plan in the 2002 ROD included reducing or removing the remaining tar residual in the "rind" beneath Tar Lake, continued operation of the temporary groundwater treatment system, monitoring, and land and groundwater use restrictions.

In 2004 U.S. EPA ordered the property owners and Viacom (who no longer owned the site) to remove the rind of contamination beneath the Tar Lake depression and a small patch of tar/creosote on the ground adjacent to Nelson Lake on the Tar Lake site.  The property owners and Viacom could not/would not comply with the order and U.S. EPA began the cleanup.  In 2004 U.S. EPA excavated 21,000 tons of rind material and 225 tons of surface tar/creosote from the site and transported it to a nearby landfill.  The groundwater treatment system continues to operate to prevent groundwater contaminants from spreading.  U.S. EPA issued a Preliminary Closeout Report for the site in 2004 and in 2005 U.S. EPA delisted 45 acres of the site from the National Priorities List.

A Redevelopment Plan for portions of the Tar Lake site has been completed and U.S. EPA and the MDEQ continue to meet with local redevelopers to coordinate reuse of the deleted, unrestricted part of the site and site areas that are still restricted.  In 2007 U.S. EPA provided property owners and developers with a survey of the deleted part of the Site available for unrestricted use, and with a guide to allowable/restricted commercial, industrial and recreational land uses for restricted site areas consistent with U.S. EPA's ROD and Michigan land use regulations.  

In 2009 U.S. EPA issued an Explanation of Significant Difference allowing site groundwater to be used as an industrial or drinking water supply, as long as property owners collect data showing wells on their property would not affect EPA’s groundwater treatment system or pose a risk to human health.   This change makes it possible for an energy company building a $140 million renewable energy plant at the site to show the groundwater is acceptable for industrial use.  The wells are needed because the plant's planned water use exceeds the capacity of the area’s municipal water supply.  The renewable energy plant is expected to provide about 30 full-time jobs to the area.

U.S. EPA conducted a 5-year review of the site in 2009.  The 5-year review indicates the site is protective in the short-term, but that additional data and evaluation is needed in some areas of the site.  U.S. EPA approved it's contractor's work plan for additional investigations to address the five-year review issues in April, 2010, the Quality Assurance Project Plan in May, 2011 and a Field Sampling Plan for part of the work in June, 2011.  U.S. EPA sent out an update notifying Site property owners that field work would be starting at the site in June, 2011 and began additional sampling activities on June 13, 2011.  The field work is expected to last three weeks.

In May and June, 2010, the energy company recorded restrictive covenants limiting land and groundwater use on 75 acres of the site they purchased adjacent to the 45-acre deleted area.  In July, 2010, U.S. EPA issued a file memo documenting that all remedial actions on the 75-acre area are complete, and that this area is eligible to be proposed for deletion.  MDEQ concurrerd with U.S. EPA's draft deletion notice in May, 2011.  U.S. EPA expects to propose the deletion in the Federal Register in July, 2011.   


Remedial Project Manager, U.S. EPA
karen cibulskis (cibulskis.karen@epa.gov)
(312) 886-1843

Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA
megan mcseveney
(312) 886-1972




Site Profile Information

This profile provides you with information on EPA's cleanup progress at this Superfund site.


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