City News

Some Madison residents troubled following factory’s most recent pollution offense

Some local residents are unsettled by Madison Kipp Corporation’s environmental impact.

Image By: Camille Paskind

As an aluminum manufacturer reaches a settlement with the state over pollution violations, some Madison residents remain concerned about the company’s environmental impact.

Madison-Kipp Corporation, which operates an aluminum production facility at 201 Waubesa St. on Madison’s East Side, recently agreed to pay $350,000 in fines for high onsite concentrations of pollutants associated with industrial chemicals used by the company.

According to Dr. Jean Bahr, a UW-Madison professor of geology and geophysics, the two contaminants — tetrachloroethylene and polychlorinated biphenyls — are both considered health hazards even at very low concentrations. They are also believed to cause cancer.

Under the settlement, Madison-Kipp will be required to build reserves of $1.65 million over the next five years for future cleanup initiatives. During this period, they will not be required to pay the fines dictated by the agreement.

Such a waiting period may also allow the company more time to assess the best methods for cleanup, according to Bahr.

“We often underestimate how complicated cleanup can be, especially when we’re working at the subsurface level,” she said.

Some residents of the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara neighborhood are asking for a more immediate response, from both state agencies and Madison-Kipp.

“I've been in the neighborhood for a few years, and felt much better about things when the [state Department of Natural Resources] was more active in monitoring Kipp,” said resident Jen Åhlström, who recalled that the agency used to conduct routine tests of soil sample quality and air quality.

In response to local concerns, a SASY neighborhood organization announced plans last summer to coordinate their own system of air pollution monitoring.

One resident said the smells produced by operations at Madison-Kipp are alarming.

“The scent is smoky, artificial and toxic with metallic and plastic overtones,” said resident Sybill Augustine. “I worry about the air we're all breathing . . . we're consuming it on a daily basis.”

Other residents wondered how these fines would address pollution more immediately, especially given Madison-Kipp’s history of violations.

The state Department of Natural Resources found groundwater beneath or around the corporation to be contaminated with tetrachloroethylene four separate times between 1995 and 2010.

On the Facebook group for SASY’s neighborhood association, resident Steven Klafka suggested that past penalties had not been severe enough.

“These [fines] don't appear to have made a difference,” Klafka wrote. “The fines must not be big enough, or perhaps we need to move beyond the corporation shield and hold the owners and managers accountable.” 

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