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Congressional District # 01


EPA ID# MID980794655
Last Updated: March, 2015

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) 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. MDEQ connected residents to the Mancelona water supply during a state-funded water supply expansion in 2002.

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.

Antrim County completed a redevelopment plan for portions of the Tar Lake site in 2000. EPA updated the redevelopment plan based on current conditions in 2005 and 2009. U.S. EPA and the MDEQ continue to meet with property owners and redevelopers to coordinate reuse of the deleted, unrestricted part of the site and site areas that are still restricted.  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 uncontaminated site groundwater to be used if the site is redeveloped.

In 2010, an energy company recorded restrictive covenants limiting land and groundwater use on 75 acres of the site adjacent to the 45-acre deleted area. In July 2010, U.S. EPA issued a file memo documenting that all remedial actions on this 75-acre area were complete. U.S. EPA proposed to delete this area from the site on November 10, 2011. The MDEQ concurred and the deletion was final January 9, 2012.

U.S. EPA conducted a Five-Year Review of the site in 2009. The Five-Year Review found that 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 conducted additional sampling at the site in 2011 and 2012. U.S. EPA's investigations found additional soil and groundwater contamination in some areas of the site. In September 2013, U.S. EPA issued an Explanation of Significant Differences to require additional soil excavation with off-site disposal and the expansion of the biosparge groundwater treatment system.  U.S. EPA initiated the remedial design for the modified remedy in March 2014.  U.S. EPA approved the work plan for the remedial design in August 2014.  In October 2014, U.S. EPA recollected soil and groundwater samples from the site that did not meet quality assurance/quality control criteria.  The recollected data will be used with the data collected during the predesign investigation to support the remedial design.  U.S. EPA expects to complete investigations in other site areas by 2016. 

U.S. EPA conducted a second Five-Year Review of the site in 2014. The Five-Year Review confirms that the site is protective in the short-term. Contaminated areas of the site are not used for residential purposes, and tar and soil contaminants do not exceed Michigan nonresidential direct contact criteria. U.S. EPA expects to complete the remedial design and to start the additional soil excavation and biosparge groundwater treatment expansion in 2018. Once the remedy is implemented, it will take approximately 15 years for the biosparge system to clean up the groundwater. EPA will complete the next Five-Year Review of the site in 2019.  


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

Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA
heriberto leon
(312) 886-6163




Site Profile Information

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


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