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Congressional District # 04


EPA ID# MID000722439
Last Updated: May, 2015

Site Description

The Velsicol Chemical Corp. site is located in Gratiot County, Michigan. From 1936 until 1978, Velsicol (formerly Michigan Chemical Corp.) produced various chemical compounds and products at its fifty-four acre main plant site in St. Louis, Michigan, such as hexabromobenzene (HBB), 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl) ethane (DDT), polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (tris). In 1982, a Consent Judgment was entered into by Velsicol, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Michigan, under which Velsicol agreed to construct a slurry wall around and a clay cap over the fifty-four acre main plant site. In return, Velsicol received a broad covenant not to sue from EPA and the State of Michigan. The Pine River, which borders the main plant site on three sides and was known to contain significant levels of DDT and PBB, was not required to be remediated by the 1982 Consent Judgment. The Pine River contamination was addressed at the time by the State of Michigan with a no-consumption advisory for all species of fish. The fish advisory continues to remain in effect.

Site Responsibility

This site is being addressed through federal and state actions.

Threats and Contaminants

On-site groundwater is contaminated with DDT, chlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene (TCE), and other chlorinated compounds. On-site soil samples reveal contamination with PBBs, copper, chromium, zinc, and magnesium. The sediments of the Pine River were also contaminated with similar contaminants through direct discharges from the site; however, surface waters do not show any significant impacts. Potential risks exist for people who eat contaminated fish and wildlife in the vicinity of the site.

Cleanup Progress

Under a 1982 Consent Judgement, Velsicol completed the construction of a containment system at the main plant site in 1985. The containment system consists of a slurry wall around the fifty-four acre site and a clay cap over the site. The Consent Judgment also required that Velsicol maintain water levels within the containment system at less than 724.13 feet above mean sea level. Water levels within the containment system did not exceed 724.13 until 1993, when Velsicol had to pump out 1.25 million gallons of water in early 1994 and another 1.28 million gallons in late 1994. EPA and the State of Michigan asked Velsicol to conduct an assessment of the containment system to determine why water levels continued to rise in the system. Velsicol agreed and began the assessment in the summer of 1996 and completed it in March 1997. Velsicol also submitted technical documents to EPA in July 1996 to begin the process for getting approval to inject non-hazardous waste into their deep injection well, which is located five miles from the main plant site. Velsicol constructed an alarm and automatic shut-off system for the deep injection well in 1997. Velsicol received approval from EPA to inject non-hazardous waste down the deep well in 1997.

Around this same time, EPA and the State of Michigan began a reassessment of contamination in the Pine River/St. Louis Impoundment. During summer 1996, sediment cores were collected from 23 locations in the St. Louis Impoundment and analyzed for PBB, HBB, and DDT. Surficial sediment samples were also collected from depositional areas in the lower Pine River (below the St. Louis dam). During summer 1997, the Agencies collected another round of sediment cores from 28 locations and analyzed them for DDT and total organic carbon (TOC). Additionally, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) collected fish for analysis.  Results from the sediment surveys indicated that the levels of total DDT in the Pine River and the St. Louis Impoundment were extremely high, with a maximum of 32,000 parts per million (ppm) total DDT. A comparison of the 1980, 1981, 1996 and 1997 data showed that the concentration levels, on the whole, had not decreased over time.

On June 8, 1998, EPA signed an Action Memorandum for a time-critical removal action to address the most highly-contaminated sediments in the Pine River. The Action Memorandum called for dredging/ excavating sediments containing 3,000 ppm total DDT or greater (hot spots), treatment of sediments with a stabilizing/drying agent, and off-site disposal of excavated sediments. The removal action also included the construction of necessary infrastructure such as roads, a staging pad, and a water treatment plant. Construction of the infrastructure was substantially complete by November 1998. Sediment removal began in the spring of 1999 and was completed in October 1999.

For contaminated sediments not addressed by the removal action, a streamlined Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) Report and Proposed Plan were made available to the public in August 1998.  EPA signed a Record of Decision (ROD) on February 12, 1999, selecting Alternative 4 (Hydraulic Modification of the Pine River, Excavation of Sediments, Dewatering and Water Treatment) and Alternatives 5 and 6 (disposal of contaminated sediments in either a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Subtitle D or C landfill). The ROD contemplated the use of temporary cofferdams and the dry excavation of sediments, but also recognized that the installation of temporary cofferdams might not be feasible in all locations in the St. Louis Impoundment and that some of the sediment removal might need to be completed using mechanical or hydraulic dredging. In accordance with the ROD, remedial action work in the Pine River included the following components:  installation of temporary cofferdams in the St. Louis Impoundment; dewatering of the areas within the cofferdams; dry excavation of the sediments; stabilization of the sediments with a drying agent; treatment of the water removed from the excavation areas; ongoing monitoring of operations to ensure protection of workers and the community; ongoing water column and air monitoring; and sediment sampling after completion of the excavation work to ensure the successful removal of contaminated sediments. 

EPA began Phase I remedial action work in the fall of 1999, with the installation of sheet piling to construct cofferdams and to divide the southern half of the river into manageable cells. Phase I cleanup activities were completed during the 2003 construction season. Within the Phase I area, an access road with 20 seven-foot diameter culverts was built. This access road would later be utilized during the Phase II remedial action activities in order to reach the northern half of the river. EPA began dewatering and sediment removal in the northern half of the river (Phase II) in the summer of 2004 and completed the work in 2005, with the removal of the northern sheet piling completed in early 2006. During the 2006 construction season, EPA again dewatered the southern half of the river so that the in-river haul roads could be removed and the remaining contamination in the equalization basin could be excavated and shipped offsite for disposal. The remedial action work in the river was completed by the end of 2006.  The State of Michigan continues to monitor contaminant levels in fish in the river until the fish advisory can be removed.

The use of dry excavation methods for cleanup of the Pine River sediments facilitated the discovery that the slurry wall around the 52-acre former plant site was failing, and Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (DNAPL) was migrating from the main plant site into the glacial till underlying the river sediments.  By the end of 2006, a total of approximately 4,355 gallons of DNAPL had been pumped from the river bottom, approximately 640,000 cubic yards of sediment had been removed, an estimated 222 tons of DDT had been removed from the river, and approximately 1,400 linear feet of interceptor trench had been installed along the riverbank to collect DNAPL migrating from the plant site. EPA also constructed a clay cap over the areas of the river bottom with residual DNAPL to isolate the contaminants from the river. 

Following the discovery that the slurry wall surrounding the former plant site was failing, the Agencies began an RI/FS at the main plant site, designated as operable unit 1 (OU1). The Pine River sediment remediation project is designated as OU2.  MDEQ served as the lead agency conducting the RI/FS and EPA was the support agency.  MDEQ released the RI Report for OU1 in late November 2006, and held a public meeting to discuss the findings in early December 2006. A copy of the report is available at the St. Louis public library.  The report includes the results of site investigation work at the main plant site, as well as at adjacent or nearby properties and at an area known as the "former burn area" on the Gratiot County Golf Course site located across the Pine River. The report concludes that soils and groundwater at the site are contaminated with a variety of chemicals. Soils are contaminated with volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, pesticides, specialty chemicals, and inorganics; the areas with the highest concentrations of contaminants and the most contaminant detections were in the shallow outwash unit soils on the former plant site. Groundwater is contaminated with volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, pesticides, specialty chemicals, and inorganics. Volatile organic compounds are the predominant contaminants present in groundwater at the former plant site in terms of the frequency detected and the concentrations observed, with the highest concentrations detected in the northeast and western portions of the former plant site. The RI Report concluded that remedial activities would be needed to mitigate the soil and groundwater contamination at the site.  The final phase of the RI was completed in Jnauary 2009. 

MDEQ and EPA began work on a Feasibility Study to evaluate potential cleanup options for addressing the contamination at the site in 2009. In May 2010, EPA and MDEQ presented the possible cleanup options for the site to EPA's National Remedy Review Board, due to the expected cost of the site remedy to be over $25 million. The Feasibility Study was completed in November 2011.  A Proposed Plan was issued in February 2012, and, after addressing public comments, a Record of Decision was signed on June 22, 2012, selecting the following remedy:

The MDEQ concurred with the site remedy.  The total cost of the site remedy is expected to be $373 million, with $143 million in construction costs.

Due to the size of the cleanup and EPA funding constraints, it will likely be completed over several years. Construction is already underway for two remedy components, including the replacement of the City of St. Louis drinking water supply and cleanup of the residential area adjacent to the Velsicol site. Remedial design activities are also underway for remedy components required to cleanup the FPS property.

Replacement of the City of St. Louis, Michigan Drinking Water Supply

The City of St. Louis has formed a water authority with Alma, Michigan, called the Gratiot County Water Authority. The water authority will provide drinking water to both communities. The drinking water replacement is expected to be completed in 2016, but, in all likelihood, enough of the new system will be operational by the fall of 2015 to provide new drinking water to local residents. EPA/MDEQ are providing $33 million for the drinking water supply replacement.

Cleanup of the Residential Area Adjacent to the Former Velsicol Chemical Plant

In 2014, EPA and MDEQ funded the cleanup of yard areas at 52 homes that were contaminated with DDT and PBB. Over 25,000 tons of contaminated soil were excavated and taken off-site for disposal in an approved landfill. Clean dirt was placed back into the excavated areas and yard areas were sodded and landscaping was replaced. During the summer of 2015, 47 additional homes are scheduled to be cleaned up.  It is expected that 18,000 tons of contaminated soil will be removed, to be replaced with clean fill and new landscaping/sod.

Former Velsicol Plant Site Cleanup Design Work

Pre-design sampling has been completed for two potential source areas scheduled to be excavated and for the two DNAPL areas. With the completion of the pre-design sampling for the two potential source areas and two areas scheduled to undergo in-situ thermal treatment, the design work has begun for the two remedies. Design work is expected to be completed for both remedies in the fall of 2015. If funding is available, cleanup work could begin in 2016.

Downstream Investigation

EPA and MDEQ continue to investigate to determine if sediment and floodplains downstream from the Velsicol plant site will require removal. This area is designated as OU3.  It is expected that this investigation will be completed in 2016.

Community Involvement

A Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) has been issued to the Pine River Superfund Task Force.  Monthly meetings are held with the community, EPA and the State to discuss issues associated with the Velsicol site.


Remedial Project Manager, U.S. EPA
thomas alcamo (alcamo.thomas@epa.gov)
(312) 886-7278

Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA
teresa jones
(312) 886-0725




Site Profile Information

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


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