TAMARACK CITY - An approximately $120,000 Environmental Protection Agency asbestos cleanup project at the abandoned Tamarack City Stamp Mill should be wrapped up by this weekend.
The project will leave the Tamarack City neighborhood safer for residents and visitors, and create an opportunity for a possible new heritage site for the Keweenaw National Historical Park. Along with the EPA, the project involves cooperation from Osceola Township, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the National Park Service.
"Asbestos was the primary concern, with the Tamarack City Park and residents next door," said Brian Kelly, the EPA's on-site coordinator. "The EPA and DEQ sometimes get criticism, but I think we've done a good job here."
Photo courtesy Environmental Protection Agency
Contractors in hazmat suits and respirators dig asbestos-tainted materials out of the rubble at the long-abandoned Torch Lake Stamp Mill.
Kelly said the stamp mill was posted with no trespassing signs, but there was nothing physically preventing children from the adjacent park or curiosity seekers from exploring the ruins. There was also a concern that deterioration could allow asbestos to become airborne.
Asbestos is a silicate mineral formerly used in insulation, roofing and other construction applications that can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other illnesses when inhaled.
Osceola Township Supervisor Steve Karpiak said he's been pleased with the EPA's work at the township-owned site, adding the EPA paid nearly the entire cost of the project.
"It hasn't cost the township anything except for the water," he said. "It makes the area safer, though we'll still have no trespassing signs and don't want people roaming through."
That could change in the future, he added. The township has been working with Steve DeLong of Keweenaw National Historical Park on having the stamp mill, which Karpiak said was originally associated with the Osceola Mine, designated as one of KNHP's cooperating historic sites.
The park service has been involved throughout, and "gave recommendations on how to preserve the nature of the site," Kelly said.
He said the cleanup has taken about two weeks for him and a group of seven contractors, but the process began last summer and involved input from the township and the DEQ.
Amy Keranen, an environmental quality analyst with the DEQ based in Calumet, said the DEQ's Upper Peninsula office first saw the results of asbestos sampling taken by the Lansing Superfund office late last June, and has been in communication with the EPA ever since.
Kelly said the EPA did further testing last fall, and he worked to secure necessary agreements and funding over the winter. Earlier this summer, specialists determined the extent of the problem and specific locations of asbestos. Much of it was in pipe insulation and roofing, some of which had become scattered.
"A lot of the roofing materials were just laying around," he said.
Early in the project, crews were forced to wear hazmat protective suits and respirators to ensure their own safety as the asbestos was disturbed during excavation, Kelly said. They also collected air samples and checked them twice daily to make sure they weren't creating a short-term airborne asbestos problem.
Kelly said the mill was closed in 1968, then sold to owners who blew up parts of it to access residual metals and scrap. The EPA is sometimes able to assign liability to former owners and recover remediation costs, but he said that's unlikely in this case due to changes in ownership and the death of former owners.
He said excavation is now complete, and workers are now cleaning up the site and smoothing over buried debris.
During the process, Kelly said, the crew found a variety of artifacts, including wrenches, drills, a motor and crushing balls from the stamping process.