Cleanup nearly complete at Harambee Superfund site

An EPA-mandated Superfund cleanup of toxic waste stored in this three-story building at 3456 N. Buffum St., in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood is nearing completion. Carl Swanson photo

An EPA-mandated Superfund cleanup of toxic waste stored in this three-story building at 3456 N. Buffum St., in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood is nearing completion. The building will likely soon be demolished. Carl Swanson photo

After a summer spent collecting and disposing of tons of hazardous and toxic waste, contractors have almost wrapped up work at the Federal Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site at 3456 N. Buffum St.

An unwelcoming entryway. In addition to being fenced off and padlocked, the door has EPA Superfund warnings in both English and Spanish. The notice at far right is a City of Milwaukee order directing the owner to demolish the property. Photo by Carl Swanson

An unwelcoming entryway. In addition to being fenced off and padlocked, the door has EPA Superfund warnings in both English and Spanish. The notice at far right is a City of Milwaukee order directing the owner to demolish the property. Photo by Carl Swanson

The century-old three-story building is in a mixed residential and commercial area. Residential properties are to the north and east, the Beerline recreational trail is to the south, and operating businesses are to the west.

The 27,554-square-foot building housed a number of industries over the years, everything from a company that manufactured caskets to a firm selling “Quaff-Aid” hangover remedy tablets. Its last tenant, a recycling center, ceased operations in 2008 and the building has steadily deteriorated since.

Early in 2014, alarmed by reports of hazardous materials inside the abandoned and largely unsecured structure, the EPA arranged permission from the property owner to have a team conduct an on-site inspection. Agency investigators reported:

“There are numerous physical and chemical hazards associated with the Site, including three incinerators/ovens, numerous piles of ash, containers of waste oil, and flammable and corrosive materials. Some containers are open, bulging, and/or leaking. There is evidence of waste flowing into floor drains and seeping out a door. Waste from open and spilled drums as well as hazardous ash piles flushes into floor drains with each rain event, as failing portions of the roof allow stormwater to fill the building. Lead paint chips and friable asbestos are uncontrolled in the building.”

buffum-polrep1-img1064The EPA declared a “time-critical removal action” under the federal Superfund law, which provides taxpayer money for emergency cleanup efforts.

Over the summer, the EPA’s contractors packaged and hauled away two tons of hazardous solid waste, two 55-gallon drums filled with PCB light ballasts, 247 fluorescent bulbs, nine 55-gallon drums of used oil, five gallons of acids, and 290 tons of non-hazardous waste. An additional 20 tons of scrap metal and 295 pounds of batteries were recycled.

The structure is in extremely poor condition. In fact, workers noticed cracks in the walls visibly growing larger with each rainstorm. At one point they even had to call in the Milwaukee Fire Department’s Heavy Urban Rescue team to temporary shore up a portion of the collapsing roof.

The initial phase of the cleanup is now complete and workers have fenced off the building and departed. On August 22, 2014, the City of Milwaukee issued a demolition order to the property’s owners, who are tax-delinquent, reside in Illinois, and have previously told officials they are not able to care for the property. According to city records, the building was last assessed at $536,000 with an outstanding balance of $486,644 owed on back taxes.

The owner may appeal the city order. If the owner is ultimately directed to demolish the building and fails to do so, the EPA believes the city will likely to step in and remove the structure. This will be followed by a final round of remediation to remove soil under the building contaminated by hazardous waste flowing unchecked into floor drains over the years. Finally, the former site of this unloved and unlovely building will be graded and planted with grass.Carl_siga_favor_requested

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