The discovery of an unexpected amount of medical waste dumped on a University landfill during the 1950s and 1960s in Shoreview will cause the Board of Regents to consider approving $400,000 more for cleanup at their next meeting in November.
After cleanup began in September, crews found larger amounts of needles, asbestos, carcinogenic compounds, IV tubing and whole bottles of blood than initial tests of the site revealed. The request is detailed in a draft of a regents funding proposal written by Gordon Girtz of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety.
Girtz said the site has not damaged the environment or threatened nearby homes.
“The proof of the infectious nature is not there,” Girtz said. “But we are not taking any chances.”
The cleanup is part of a sale agreement with the Wispark Corporation, who will buy the land for $5.5 million. Ady Wickstrom of the Shoreview City Council said Wispark plans to build a mixed development of commercial and residential properties.
Representatives for Wispark were out of town and could not comment.
A restriction will be placed on the area of the landfill, prohibiting any future development on it, said Pollution Control Agency spokeswoman Kathy Carlson.
The landfill is a 3.5-acre part of a 209-acre property the University has owned since 1941 and used as an airport until 1956. Girtz said the landfill began in 1950 and its use ended in 1969.
Ash from waste burned in the University’s incinerator was trucked to the site and dumped as well as construction debris, Girtz said. However, the incinerator did not produce enough heat to destroy non-combustible medical waste like glass bottles and needles from the University hospital, he said.
“What (the incinerator’s) guys would do is truck the non-combustible things out to Shoreview,” Girtz said.
Members of Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency said this practice was not unusual during the 1950s and 1960s.
“It wasn’t illegal,” Carlson said. “It’s just what they did.”
Agency spokesman Don Nelson said rules for dumping infectious medical waste weren’t implemented until 1972, three years after the University ceased dumping in Shoreview.
“And even then we didn’t get the Infectious Waste Control Act passed until 1989,” he said.
“There are 1,200 to 1,300 dump sites of the same type across the state,” Carlson said. “But we don’t know what’s in most of them.”
Girtz said this is the only landfill of this type the University has.
Carlson said the University’s landfill has not leaked infectious materials into the environment. Tests found no toxic materials in the groundwater or in a nearby creek. Girtz said the University dug a well to monitor any high levels of toxins all around the property. After the sale is complete, the University will continue to monitor the site.
Girtz said members of the cleanup team found enough asbestos to fill three 55-gallon barrels. But the asbestos was in solid form and is not the dangerous particle form where it can break off and become airborne, he said.
The regents originally approved $1.3 million in funding for the site’s cleanup in April. But after more infectious waste was discovered, Girtz is planning to ask the regents for a new total of $1.75 million.
This money is actually a loan, Girtz said. Proceeds from the sale of the property will go to pay back the cleanup costs.
Members of the Shoreview city government said they had no idea of these new findings, but added that any problems are between the University and Wispark.
“It doesn’t sound like it’s going to prohibit development,” said Mayor Sandy Martin. “There will be no cost to the city.”
“We’ve never had any problems with the University in the past,” Wickstrom said.
Girtz said that all infectious materials and the asbestos will be disposed of in approved landfills.