Jane Keon, Pine River Superfund Citizen Taskforce Organizational Records, 1997-2016 (scattered), and undated
Using These Materials
- Jane Keon, Pine River Superfund Citizen Taskforce Organizational Records are open for research.
- Keon, Jane.
- The collection, 1997-2016 (scattered), and undated, consists of materials printed in 2019 from 3 DVDs, documenting information about the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force (CAG), and material related to the PBB contamination of cattle feed by Velsicol Chemical in the 1970s in Michigan, with a focus on contamination of St. Louis. The 2020 Addition Acc#76923 includes Boxes 13-20 and one Oversized Folder, 2003-2004, 2006, 2011-2016. Most of the contents includes investigative and final reports on the ecological, water supply, and human health risks in St. Louis related to the Velsicol Superfund Site, cleanup proposals and remedial action investigation report and contracts for the same site, including one specifically for the golf course, previously the Velsicol Burn Pit. Allergy Note: Please note Boxes 13-20 and the Oversized Folder have a musty or mildew smell to them.
- 11 cubic ft. (in 20 boxes, 1 Oversized folder)
- Collection processed and finding aid created by N. Brabaw, L. Rogers, M. Matyn
- Scope and Content:
Allergy Note: Please note Boxes 13-20 and the Oversized Folder have a musty or mildew smell to them.
The collection, 1997-2011 (scattered), and undated, consists of materials printed in 2019 from 3 DVDs, documenting information about the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force (CAG), and material related to the PBB contamination of cattle feed by Velsicol Chemical in the 1970s in Michigan, with a focus on contamination of St. Louis. CAG materials compose the majority of the collection (5.75 cubic feet in 12 boxes). The CAG documents were either generated on a computer or scanned and retained in a computer. They include newspaper clippings, meeting agendas, memos, meeting minutes, emails, journal articles, event posters, handwritten notes, financial records, and member rosters. The PBB and Velsicol documents include newspaper articles about the contamination. Copies of a few earlier references from the 1960s are included. Also included are copies of two DVDs that contain videotaped interviews of two CAG members, Jane Keon and Melissa Strait by Comcast Newsmakers, 2008. These interviews were also accessible, as of 2019, on the CAG Facebook page. The topic is the receipt of the Carter Partnership Award by the CAG and Alma College. Melissa Strait was a member and chair of the chemistry department at Alma College. Copyright of the DVDs is unknown, likely held by Comcast Newsmakers. The collection is organized according to original order.
This is the only collection documenting the CAG and its efforts to attain federal government recognition of the contamination in the St. Louis area and fund its remediation. Until the CAGs efforts began to make national news, there was minimal effort to document the tragedy outside of those directly impacted by it. Michigan’s PBB tragedy was largely forgotten. The CAGs efforts re-energized awareness of the tragedy. As a result, Alma College, Central Michigan University, University of Michigan, and Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, faculty, staff and students began to document, collect and preserve primary source materials for future researchers, including ongoing health issues of effected people of the tragedy. Without the CAGs efforts, St. Louis would remain an undocumented major national toxic site.
The 2020 Addition Acc#76923 includes Boxes 13-20 and one Oversized Folder, 2003-2004, 2006, 2011-2016. Most of the contents includes investigative and final reports on the ecological, water supply, and human health risks in St. Louis related to the Velsicol Superfund Site, cleanup proposals and remedial action investigation report and contracts for the same site, including one specifically for the golf course, previously the Velsicol Burn Pit. Authors of the reports include CDM Smith; CH2M Hill; Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber, Inc.; Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; Weston Solutions of Michigan, Inc. (sometimes their name on reports is typed as Weston Solutions Inc. of Michigan). Also included is the draft chapters and list of chapters of Keon’s book Tombstone Town: Left for dead, marked with a tombstone, a toxic town fights back, 2015, which includes more detailed information than what was included in the book. The addition is organized in alphabetical order by creator name, then by title. Most of the materials were in large binders originally and were foldered retaining the order of the binder contents.
Allergy Note: Please note Boxes 13-20 and the Oversized Folder have a musty or mildew smell to them.
Processing Note: Two DVDs were copied that contain videotaped interviews of two CAG members, and the originals were returned to donor as per the donor’s request. One W2 found in the collection, which contained a personal social security number, was removed from the collection.
- Biographical / Historical:
Biographical and Organizational Histories:
Jane Keon: Jane Keon is a founding member of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force. She served as the chairperson for 12 years, and is the current secretary. A long-time resident of Michigan, and Gratiot County, Jane grew up in a family of biologists, so she therefore was more aware of the dangers of chemicals, like DDT. Her father was a student under Dr. George Wallace while working on his PhD at Michigan State University. Dr. Wallace’s work with DDT in robins helped influence Rachel Carson while writing her book Silent Spring. So before Carson published her book, Jane and her family were already aware of the dangers of DDT on robins and other bird populations. After the Alma College campus was sprayed with DDT, she accompanied her father on “bird hikes,” listening for robins, and finding dead birds.
Jane received an English Literature M.A., after which she spent many years writing for newspapers around Gratiot County, including the Saginaw News. Jane also taught at Alma College for 29 years, and owned a bookstore in downtown Alma for a time.
While raising her children, Jane lived downstream from the Velsicol Chemical Corporation, which was still in business through 1978. She remembers walking outside in the morning and having the Pine River smell like a swimming pool from the chlorine, or bromine, the plant had dumped the night before. Even before the creation of the CAG, Jane had an understanding of the toxicity of chemicals, and cautioned her children to stay out of the river. Her time with the CAG, helping to oversee the cleanup process of the Pine River Watershed, prompted her to write, and publish her memoir, Tombstone Town: Left for Dead, Marked with a Tombstone, a Toxic Town Fights Back, originally published in 2015. Jane’s dedication to the CAG, to the towns of St. Louis and Alma, and to the people of Michigan made her an easy choice for the 2018 CAG Hall of Fame Honoree. (This information is from the collection, her oral history interview on deposit with the CMU museum, and the books mentioned above.)
Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force: The Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force, in St. Louis, Michigan, is an EPA-sanctioned community advisory group (CAG) founded in 1997. The CAG had its first official meeting in January 1998. This group was founded in response to the EPA testing of sediment samples, near the former Velsicol Chemical plant site, which found alarmingly high levels of DDT 20 years after the plant had closed. The CAG’s function is to oversee the cleanup of the Pine River Watershed, which includes three superfund sites, a radioactive site, and a non-superfund site, which contains mercury and vinyl chloride. Since 2013 the CAG collaborates with Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, on health studies for those affected by the PBB (polybrominated biphenyl) contamination event of the 1970s.
The PBB event was caused by a mix-up at Velsicol Chemical Corporation when FireMaster (PBB) was bagged in NutriMaster (mineral supplement) sacks. When the PBB was added to animal feed, and farm animals ate it, PBB entered the food chain. This event contaminated the human food supply, affecting an estimated 8 million people in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, as well as people throughout the mid-west United States where Michigan dairy and meat products were distributed. The book The Poisoning of Michigan, by Joyce Egginton, is a good source for those wishing to learn more about PBB and the PBB event. Additionally, PBB and other chemicals manufactured by Velsicol Chemical Company contaminated the land, water, wildlife, and people of St. Louis, Michigan, and downstream communities.
The CAG continues to oversee multiple cleanup projects in the St. Louis area, including a $99.7 million sediment remediation which removed over 750,000 cubic yards from a 32-acre area of the Pine River, the shut-down of the drinking water supply and construction of new wells and main water lines to provide clean water for St. Louis residents, a $3 million cleanup at the radioactive site, and the current in-situ thermal treatment for “Area 1.” Costs for the remediation of the former Velsicol plant site are estimated at $354 million. As of 2019, the CAG continues to exist and actively move forward with its goals.
The CAG received the Carter Partnership Award from the State of Michigan in 2007 and 2008 for their outstanding commitment to campus (Alma College)-community efforts to improve the lives of others. (This information is from the collection, CAG and EPA websites, accessed 2019.)
Michigan Chemical / Velsicol Chemical Company: Velsicol Chemical Company began as the Michigan Chemical Company in 1936 in St. Louis, Michigan. Michigan Chemical was bought out by Velsicol Chemical Corporation in the mid- 1960s, but the company did not change its name right away. Velsicol produced many chemicals, including DDT and PBB (through their fire retardants, such as FireMaster), alongside cattle feed supplements (NutriMaster). By accidentally bagging PBB as a cattle feed supplement, Velsicol was responsible for the Michigan PBB contamination event of the early 1970s. Despite its role in the contamination, the plant continued to operate until 1978. Because it employed several hundred people, many residents were sad when the company ceased production. Following a number of lawsuits, Velsicol was found legally responsible for minimal clean up efforts. They only paid a $20,000 fine for remediation of the Pine River. The entire plant operation was later torn down; however, remaining contaminated soil and groundwater remained untreated. The only remediation put into place was a clay slurry wall and cap around, and on top, of the contaminated plant site. By 1997, EPA tests proved that chemicals manufactured at the plant continued to contaminate the Pine River and the groundwater. Velsicol still operates today in the United States and abroad. (This information is from the collection, CAG and EPA websites, accessed 2019.)
- Acquisition Information:
- Acc#76475, #76923
Arrangement is by original order.
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Citizens' associations--United States.
DDT (Insecticide)--Environmnetal aspects.
Hazardous waste site remediation--United States.
Hazardous waste site remediation--Michigan--Gratiot County.
Pine River Superfund Citizen Taskforce
United States. Environmental Protection Agency.
Velsicol Chemical Corp.
CH2M HILL (Firm)
Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber.
Weston, Solutions, Inc.
Saint Louis (Mich.)--History.
Gratiot County (Mich.)--History.
Pine River Superfund Site.
Using These Materials
Jane Keon, Pine River Superfund Citizen Taskforce Organizational Records are open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
The CAG retains copyright of its collection, except for some of the published materials, and the videotapes, which are separately copyrighted.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Jane Keon, Pine River Superfund Citizen Taskforce Organizational Records, Folder # , Box #, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University