For more than a hundred years, the Oscar Mayer Company — made famous by its hot dogs, cold cuts and the Weinermobile — operated a meat processing plant on the city’s north side.
When the plant closed in 2017, city leaders saw an opportunity for redevelopment.
“Most of the focus of the city was to create more housing and employment at the same time,” says Ald. Syed Abbas, who represents the area.
The city also wants to build a new bus garage on the norther 15 acres of the site.
While planning for that potential bus garage, however, the city learned — thanks to concerns raised by local residents — about a very serious problem at the former factory.
“This particular place [having been] used for a hundred years as an industry…there’s a lot of [chemical] contamination,” explains Abbas.
The primary concern, at least for now, is with the structure formerly known as the ‘Spice Room’ but is now known simply as Building 43.
Before Building 43 can be used as a bus garage, the city would need to clean up and remove a chemical used as trichloroethylene or TCE.
“At some extent, we know what type of contamination this building contained, but at the same time, we do not know how far [the contamination] went and that’s the big question mark in this whole Oscar Mayer picture,” continues Abbas.
One group, Midwest Environmental Advocates, says the TCE in Building 43 is just the tip of the iceberg and that many chemicals are spread throughout the 72-acre site.
“It’s all sorts of different chemicals, from TCE to lead to arsenic to petroleum,” says MEA attorney Rob Lee. “The list really goes on.”
Such chemicals have been known to be particularly harmful for pregnant women and young children and TCE has been linked to kidney and liver disease as well as cancer.
While such contamination could disrupt plans for redevelopment, Ald. Abbas says the city is committed to doing what’s necessary.
“The city still needs to really make sure we clean the contamination either through us or through the private developer,” he says.
Next steps for the Oscar Mayer Special Area Plan include a public meeting on Nov. 5 and, of course, finding out exactly how widespread the contamination is.
The Badger Report reached out to Kraft Heinz, the parent company of Oscar Mayer, but they did not respond to a request for comment.