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EPA heats soil to boil away underground contamination at superfund site

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Drilling during thermal system treatment installation at the Velsicol Chemical Corp. Superfund site in the town of St. Louis, Michigan.

The ground is getting warmer at one of the state’s most contaminated sites.

The Environmental Protection Agency is using a process called thermal remediation to heat the soil and remove harmful chemicals at the Velsicol Chemical Corp. Superfund site in the town of St. Louis.

"The process is fascinating really," says Jane Keon of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force.

TIMELINE: Velsicol Chemical leaves large toxic footprint in the "Middle of the Mitten"

The process will boil the chemicals so the EPA can trap the vapors.

“The process is fascinating really,” says Jane Keon, a longtime member of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force. “It brings up both liquids and gases that are full of contaminants. And then they have an onsite treatment plant right there.”

The EPA posted a video online to explain the process:

Underground temperatures at the site are tracked in real time and posted online.

Thermal remediation on one part of the site was completed earlier this year. Work will continue in the coming year.

“It’ll never be clean soil again,” Keon says. “But as far as protecting both humans and wildlife, we will be getting to a better place.”

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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