A Toxic legacy: Superfund Sites in La Crosse County

By John O’Neill

While talking with a friend, a question came up: “How many superfund sites do you think there are in La Crosse?” I didn’t know the answer, but I decided to do some digging. 

Superfund sites are locations that contain levels of hazardous waste that pose such a clear danger to human health that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must get involved.

To clean up these sites, the EPA works with property owners, local communities/governments, and the states to fix the cause and effects of the contamination. 

Of the roughly 40,000 superfund sites nationwide, 10 have been located in La Crosse County. Out of those 10, seven are archived, which means the clean-up is complete or no longer requires investigation and they are considered to pose little to no health risks. 

Two of the remaining three sites are on what is known as the Active Non National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is the prioritized list of hazardous waste sites in the US, and contains around 1,600 sites nationwide. 

The remaining superfund site in La Crosse County is the Onalaska Municipal Landfill site. It is on the Active National Priorities List, meaning we have a location in our county that is amongst the worst superfund sites in the US. 

In an upcoming article, I’m planning to look into the Onalaska Municipal Landfill site to discuss why it remains on the Active National Priorities List and the hazards it may pose to surrounding communities.

Superfund sites are only part of the puzzle that when put together reveals the often toxic legacy of the industrial history of Wisconsin and indeed much of the U.S.

At the state level, the Wisconsin DNR has information available on 1519 contaminated sites, contamination events, and cleanups dating back to 1972.  In the past year, there have been 27 new entries. 

Over the coming months, I plan to comb through the DNR records for La Crosse and neighboring counties, to get a better understanding of these sites and how they impact local communities.


Top image: Fadrowski Drum Disposal EPA Superfund Site, Franklin, Wisconsin/Public Domain

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