Quincy Smelter Asbestos Site

The Torch Lake Superfund site is located in the Houghton/Hancock area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The ‘UP’ offers an array of activities for adventure-seeking residents to explore remarkable wildlife and natural environment. In 2003, the area was tested and expansive pollution was confirmed. The contamination was due to the copper mining, milling, and smelting activities in the area over the past 100 years. The Quincy Smelting Works operated until 1971, and deposited millions of tons of waste into Torch Lake. The site is now in the boundaries of the Keweenaw National Historic Park. Remedial actions were taken in 2004-2005, though large quantities of asbestos were not discovered until 2008.

The asbestos was found in 12 buildings at the former Quincy site, where 264 containers of asbestos waste had to be removed from the Hancock/Ripley trail. EPA was concerned that frequent recreational activities, such as snowmobiling and hiking, would disturb the asbestos waste, causing it to become airborne. Asbestos attorneys remind the Michigan public that, when airborne, the fibers are easily inhaled, where they may lodge in the lungs, causing extensive and debilitating damage. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen, and leads to the development of an array of diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.

EPA is coordinating with the private Quincy Development Corp., Franklin Township, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to protect the public from asbestos exposure. Asbestos concentrations in fallen pipe were found to be as high as 75 percent. The National Park Service is also involved in the site to preserve the historic nature of the area. The smelter site is located across the Portage Canal from Houghton in Franklin Township. The public and private agencies told EPA they lacked the funds to construct the fence.

The fence was installed during late summer around the perimeter of the site and will block the recreational and snowmobile path. EPA was concerned that foot traffic and off-road vehicles would stir up asbestos dust and possibly harm residents.

EPA will assist Quincy Development Corp., Franklin Township, National Park Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources in cleaning up the asbestos and then conducting more sampling to make sure the area is safe. Informational notices or engineering controls were put up to discourage contact with slag piles.

Several of the cleanup areas were restored enough that EPA “delisted” or removed them from the Superfund National Priorities List. Reviews are done every five years at the various locations to determine whether the cleanup work continues to protect human health and the environment. The most recent of these reviews indicates that while the environmental work performed on the areas is controlling stamp sand erosion, additional monitoring must be done to determine if more cleanups are needed. That means EPA and MDEQ will be involved in the Torch Lake site for the foreseeable future.

Inspection activities since 2006 have shown continuing erosion problems at Quincy Smelter, where the shoreline stamp sands are seeping into the Portage Canal. The area in question covers about 8 acres and lies outside a recently erected fence that marks the boundary of the Quincy Smelter historical area. The 1992 cleanup plan envisioned future development at Quincy Smelter would eliminate environmental concerns at the site, but the planned development has yet to take place. Since Quincy Smelter is a historical landmark, any development, restoration, or environmental cleanup efforts need to follow the National Historic Restoration Act.

The latest cleanup proposal is also easily implemented because materials and equipment are readily available locally. The evaluation notes the $477,000 cost to EPA to perform the cleanup work and maintain the cover is all extra because the original 1992 plan contained no provision for the shoreline stamp sands. But EPA believes stopping the environmental threat to the Portage Canal and Lake Superior is worth the cost.

Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm encourage residents of the Houghton/Hancock area to review and comment on the cleanup activities. More details are available online and on file at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton. If you suspect asbestos exposure and developed a related disease, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact our firm immediately for a free legal consultation.

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