The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced Monday, Jan. 27, it was removing the old Brainerd Foundry site in south Brainerd from its Superfund Program list.
The decision marks an end of roughly 10 years of Superfund designation, or, being a recipient for special funding, monitoring and cleanup operations associated with the site’s historically high levels of contamination — lead contamination predominantly — dating back to its operation between 1925 to 1981.
According to the MPCA website, the Superfund Program “identifies, investigates and determines appropriate cleanup plans for abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites where a release or potential release of a hazardous substance poses a risk to human health or the environment.”
The Brainerd Foundry site was one of three sites removed partially, or in totality, from the agency’s Superfund list Monday, while four other sites were added.
As recently as 2015, state authorities worked to remove 4,042 tons of contaminated soil from the site and adjoining properties after tests registered polychlorinated biphenyls, lead, arsenic, naphthalene, and 1,3,5-trimethylbenzene contamination levels 30 times higher than safe standards for residential districts.
During a phone interview Monday, Eric Pederson, a state program administration coordinator with the MPCA, said the decision stemmed from recent test readings indicating the presence of lead and other contaminants at the site are well below safety standards now and no longer justify the focus and resources of the state associated with Superfund status.
“The lead is cleaned up and the soil reference values are below safe Tier 1 SRV (soil reference value) levels,” Pederson said. “The only exception to that was when there were a few places near residential homes, but those levels were more indicative of old construction practices — lead-based paint, things like that — they were not indicative of foundry waste.”
Pederson noted lead levels associated with lead-based paint are nowhere near levels of contamination that occurred during decades of industry and air pollution at the Brainerd Foundry site, especially prior to stricter environmental standards established in 1970.
History of the Brainerd Foundry
The foundry began operations at its South 10th Street location in 1925, although its history dates back to 1872, according to an article from the Brainerd Dispatch's 1971 centennial edition. One of its primary products was brass journal bearings used on the axles of railcars and its primary customer was Burlington Northern, although they also made products for the paper mill and other industrial customers.
The foundry operated until 1981. Over its lifetime, the MPCA estimates about 162,000 pounds of lead were emitted from its smokestacks. The emissions were greatly reduced in 1970, however, when clean air regulations required the addition of air filters to the stacks.
The site has been on the agency's radar since 1983. In response to resident complaints, the MPCA investigated contamination from polychlorinated biphenyl, also known as PCB, two years after the business was abandoned. Since then, numerous investigations have revealed soil lead concentrations several times higher than those considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. About 640 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed from the site in 1996, although not any from surrounding properties.
The MPCA listed the foundry site on its Superfund priority list in 2010 and dedicated funding toward its cleanup in 2015. It joined five other Superfund sites in the Brainerd area, including the former city dump and the Burlington Northern shops.
Lead is toxic to humans and can cause behavior, learning and health problems in children along with high blood pressure, kidney damage and fertility problems in adults, the Minnesota Department of Health reports. Children are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning from ingesting sources of lead, including lead-based paint chips and contaminated soil.