The city is looking to modify its plans for Monterey lagoon restoration after cutting ties with a contractor who had raised concerns about the quality and contamination of lagoon soil.
The city ended its contract with Drax of Madison on Sept. 4. Drax President Andrew Langum told the city his company would not continue with plans to use soil from the lagoon to build a peninsula. The city in a letter called that a “breach of the contract.”
The soil was exposed after the Monterey Dam was removed and the lagoon drained in summer 2018. Langum told The Gazette his company wanted to continue running tests on the soil so the city could make an educated decision on how to handle lagoon restoration.
Drax earlier this year hired Soils and Engineering Services of Madison to run tests on soil from the lagoon and found it was contaminated with “a significant amount of toxins and a list of heavy metals,” according to a July report shared with the city.
The city’s plan had been to pile the contaminated soil from the lagoon into a peninsula and cover it with several inches of clean soil. On a city diagram of the peninsula, it is labeled as “lawn & picnic area.”
Langum, who said he is trained under state and federal standards for handling heavy metal contaminants, said he would not allow his young grandchildren near the contaminated soil because exposure could inhibit child development.
Janesville Public Works Director Paul Woodard said the contamination is at low levels, but people should avoid direct contact with the soil.
In addition to being contaminated, the composition of the soil is unsuitable for the city’s plans for creating a peninsula, according to the study.
In a Sept. 4 letter to Langum, Woodard said there was no reason for Drax to perform additional soil tests and forbade the company from doing so.
Bjoin Limestone of Janesville was hired to take over part of the restoration contract, including removal of the concrete wall along the river and restoration of the shore to a more natural state, a job Drax had been slated to do, said Christopher Bjoin.
Bjoin has a contract with the city for other stormwater projects, and the city added the concrete removal to the existing contract, Woodard said.
Work on concrete removal began Tuesday, Bjoin said.
Costs for Bjoin to do concrete removal are comparable to what the city would have paid Drax, Woodard said.
No contractor has been hired to work on the lagoon, Woodard said.
In an Aug. 12 letter to Woodard, Langum said the city did not provide Drax information on contaminants prior to Drax bidding on the project in 2018.
Drax’s team is not licensed or insured to work with contaminated soils, according to the letter. If Drax had known of the contaminants, it would not have submitted a bid.
Woodard in a Sept. 4 letter said Drax was “fully aware” of all contaminated materials when the lagoon project was incorporated into the contract.
It is the bidders’ responsibility to evaluate sites and gather site information before bidding. The city would have given Drax information on contamination during bidding if it had asked, Woodard said.
Drax was given the city’s data regarding contamination and was given the state Department of Natural Resources permit for the handling and capping of the material, according to Woodard’s letter.
The DNR required the city cap the contaminated soil with at least 6 inches of fresh soil, Woodard said.
The soil in the lagoon is classified as topsoil, according to the 2019 soil study.
A 2015 study by Inter-Fluve of Madison labeled the material “organic muck.”
Duane Reichel of Soils and Engineering Services in a July 23 meeting with Drax and city staff told the city, based on the study, a peninsula made of soil from the lagoon would not hold its shape.
A structure such as a peninsula or levy should be made of a combination of clay, sand and gravel, according to a July letter to the city from Drax. The lagoon soil does not contain clay, sand and gravel.
According to meeting minutes, Reichel said the material in the bay is not suitable for the project. The soil takes on liquid properties when exposed to water.
Representatives from the city disagreed with Drax that additional testing was needed before beginning work on the lagoon, according to the minutes.
If Drax tried to build a peninsula from lagoon soil, it likely would collapse and send contaminated water down the river, according to the minutes.
Langum said he did not want him and his company to be liable for further polluting the Rock River and exposing employees and residents to contaminated materials.
Langum said Drax still is open to cooperate and collaborate with the city, but the two entities no longer have a relationship.
Drax is not considering legal action over the situation, Langum said.
City Engineer Tim Whittaker said in an email to The Gazette the city will pursue additional soil testing.
Woodard said the city intends to stick to its plans permitted by the DNR to create the peninsula, but the plan probably will need to be modified.
“That is what we are looking at, different options to create what we promised residents we would do,” Woodard said.
The future of Rock Haven, Rock County’s nursing home, could be in the crosshairs if county officials create a new committee to study it.
At its Sept. 26 meeting, the Rock County Board will consider forming an ad hoc committee to examine current operations and determine if the county should continue operating the facility, officials said.
Supervisors Yuri Rashkin of District 15 and Rick Richard of District 9 both proposed looking into Rock Haven. The proposal before the board combines their two committees into one.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said the idea to examine Rock Haven’s operations arose after a longtime employee was fired and eventually reinstated after a grievance hearing.
“I think it did raise the conversation of the nursing home again and maybe some thoughts of looking at this more closely,” Smith said.
Rashkin said he wanted the board to look into Rock Haven because of the nursing home’s handling of the grievance, which stemmed from an accusation that the employee was stealing toilet paper from the facility. The grievance process cost the county more than $12,000 in legal fees.
Rashkin wants the county to focus on the procedures and culture at Rock Haven, which was built in 2013.
“It is our responsibility, as an oversight body, to make sure that something that is in our care and is our responsibility is run as well as it can be in accordance with both legal and best practices,” he said.
Richard’s proposal calls for creating a committee to study whether the county should continue to operate Rock Haven. He declined to comment Wednesday until the meeting date was closer.
The two proposals have been molded into one proposed committee, which Rashkin is excited about.
“These are all conversations that involve Rock Haven, so we might as well merge them into one conversation and figure this all out together,” he said.
He also has doubts about Rock Haven’s financial future, saying the facility is losing money.
“Because the compensation rates are below what we actually are spending to care for people, we are losing money—the county. That’s how services work,” Rashkin said.
“I think it’s fair to ask the question, ‘Do we want to be in this business?’”
Rashkin said the proposed committee would be a “team effort” and would prompt needed conversations.
“Why are we having Rock Haven is an important question that sometimes maybe we need to answer for ourselves, and remind ourselves why we spent $30 million nearly to build a new facility,” he said. “And is this an investment in our future? Are we looking to make a little profit? What is our motivation here?”
If it is created, the committee would report to the full county board, Smith said.
“If the board makes this committee, I think they’re going to take their recommendation seriously,” he said.
Although closing or selling Rock Haven will be a topic of discussion, Smith said he wants people to know the proposed committee and county board will be thorough in their examination.
“Rock Haven has an important role in the community, and we have a lot of staff there,” he said. “We’re trying not to make people nervous about something that is not at all a foregone conclusion.”
Bruce LeRoy Buckner
Mary Ann Butts
Brandon R. Clift
Derek Lee Garber
Carol Ann Gevaart
Bonnie J. Johnson
Sharon A. Marie-Wilson
Patricia A. Zdrojewski
The federal government will act to ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes, President Donald Trump said Wednesday, responding to a recent surge in underage vaping that has alarmed parents, politicians and health authorities nationwide.
The surprise White House announcement could remake the multibillion-dollar vaping industry, which has been driven by sales of flavored nicotine formulas such as “grape slushie” and “strawberry cotton candy.”
The Food and Drug Administration will develop guidelines to remove from the market all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters during an Oval Office appearance with the president, first lady Melania Trump and the acting FDA commissioner, Ned Sharpless.
Trump, whose son Barron is 13 years old, said vaping has become such a problem that he wants parents to be aware of what’s happening.
“We can’t allow people to get sick and we can’t have our youth be so affected,” he said.
Melania Trump recently tweeted her concerns over the combination of children and vaping, and at the meeting, the president said, “I mean, she’s got a son—together—that is a beautiful, young man, and she feels very, very strongly about it.”
Trump’s first public comments on vaping come as health authorities investigate hundreds of breathing illnesses reported in people who have used e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.
No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified, though many cases involve THC vaping.
The restrictions announced by Trump officials would only apply to nicotine vaping products, which are regulated by the FDA.
The FDA has had the authority to ban vaping flavors since 2016, but has previously resisted calls to take that step. Agency officials instead said they were studying if flavors could help smokers quit traditional cigarettes.
But parents, teachers and health advocates have increasingly called for a crackdown on flavors, arguing that they are overwhelmingly to blame for the explosion in underage vaping by U.S. teens, particularly with small, discrete devices such as Juuls.
“It has taken far too long to stop Juul and other e-cigarettes companies from targeting our nation’s kids with sweet-flavored, nicotine-loaded products,” said Matthew Myers, of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a statement.
Federal law prohibits e-cigarette and all other tobacco sales to those under 18.
But federal health officials said Wednesday that preliminary data shows more than 1 in 4 high school students reported vaping this year, compared with 1 in 5 in 2018. Federal health officials have called the trend an “epidemic,” and they fear teenagers who vape will eventually start smoking.
More than 80% of underage teens who use e-cigarettes say they picked their product because it “comes in flavors that I like,” according to government surveys.
A ban on flavors would be a huge blow to companies like San Francisco-based Juul, which sells mint-, fruit- and dessert-flavored pods.
Juul and others have argued that their products are intended to help adult smokers wean themselves off traditional cigarettes.
But a Juul spokesman said in a statement that the company “strongly” agreed with the need for “aggressive action” on flavors.
“We will fully comply with the final FDA policy when effective,” he stated.
The Vapor Technology Association said in a statement the flavor ban would force smokers “to choose between smoking again ... or finding what they want and need on the black market.” The group represents vaping manufacturers, retailers and distributors.
Some health experts have seen vaping as offering an “off ramp” for smokers, but the proposed ban casts enormous uncertainty over those hopes.
A 2009 law banned all flavors from traditional cigarettes except menthol. But that law did not apply to e-cigarettes, which were then a tiny segment of the tobacco market.
“We simply have to remove these attractive flavored products from the marketplace until they can secure FDA approval, if they can,” Azar said.
Azar said flavored products could apply for FDA permission to re-enter the market. But under agency standards, only products that represent a net benefit to the public health can win FDA clearance.
Azar said the administration would allow tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes to remain available as an option for adult smokers until May 2020 before undergoing their own mandatory FDA review. But he said that if children begin using those products, “we will take enforcement action there, also.”
It will take several weeks to develop the flavor restrictions. Azar said the policy could be implemented as soon as 30 days after it is finalized.
Significantly, the Trump plan is expected to bar menthol and mint vaping flavors. FDA officials have previously exempted those products from any sales restrictions because they were thought to be useful to adult smokers. Anti-vaping advocates criticized that decision, pointing to survey data showing more than half of teens who vape use mint and menthol.
“Finally, the FDA is doing its job,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who has prodded the agency for months to take action on flavors.
Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down as FDA commissioner in April, said in a tweet that Juul bore particular responsibility for forcing the administration’s hand.
“Unfortunately the entire category of e-cigs was put at risk largely as a result of the youth abuse of mostly one manufacturer’s products,” Gottlieb said.
Wednesday’s announcement came despite months of aggressive lobbying by Juul, which spent $1.9 million in the first half of the year to try and sway the White House, Congress and the FDA.
Several former White House officials, including communications aide Josh Raffel and Johnny DeStefano, who served as counselor to Trump, have gone on to work for Juul.
A few local governments, including San Francisco, have passed bans on flavored tobacco. And this month Michigan moved to become the first state to ban flavored electronic cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have been on the U.S. market for more than a decade. But FDA officials have repeatedly delayed enforcing regulations on them, referencing industry fears that regulation could wipe out thousands of small companies.
Most experts agree the aerosol from e-cigarettes is less harmful than cigarette smoke since it doesn’t contain most of the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco. E-cigarettes generally heat liquid containing nicotine. But there is virtually no research on the long-term effects of vaping.