Thomas Street kick off

(First published in the May 16, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Thomas Street construction kicks off with concerns about soil control, new manhole testing


Construction on Thomas Street kicked off this month, amid concerns about contaminated dust and overall contamination in the corridor.

Construction on Thomas Street in Wausau kicked off last week, amid renewed concerns about whether enough precautions have been taken to mitigate potential environmental and health risks caused by all the dust stir-up in areas with toxin residue from industrial facilities there decades ago.

City leaders said that contractors working to reconstruct the eastern half of Thomas Street up to the Wisconsin River bridge—a project expected to cost roughly $3.2 million—would be wetting the soil prior to working on it. That would ensure dust would not permeate the air and spread potential contaminations to nearby residents. That came as the results of grassroots action group, Citizens for a Clean Wausau, which has raised concerns about the need for more testing for contaminants in the Thomas Street corridor in general. 

But residents say the mitigation process hasn’t always happened. Wausau residents living in the neighborhood say they have not seen the wetting that was promised by the city.

Public Works Director Eric Lindman says that’s largely due to the rain that has fallen recently, wetting the soil naturally. Too much moisture in the soil could make it hard to work with and lead to runoff, which could be worse for spreading contaminants. Lindman says he received calls from “quite a few citizens” about the dust control.

Riverside Park is one area the citizens group is particularly concerned about and where testing has been completed by a state toxicologist. The city is waiting for environmental engineering firm REI to complete its phase I assessment and could partner with Wauleco, which owns the troubled 3M site next to the park, in order to not duplicate further testing.

And city officials recently received another round of testing results from manholes in the Thomas Street corridor. Those tests show several areas where pentachlorophenol has been detected in significant amounts.

Lindman says the test results confirm that levels of PCP are coming from the groundwater and getting into the city’s sanitary pipes below the groundwater level. The levels are low, Lindman says, but they do confirm its presence and Lindman says the DNR is working with Wauleco to find a way to eliminate the issue.

Because Thomas Street is a major thoroughfare, its construction has created huge detours for those neighborhoods. While the project is being completed, main through-traffic is being rerouted north up Grand Avenue to Scott Street going west, and Washington Street to Forest Street, to Grand Avenue going south.