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Investigation Finds Barrel Refurbishing Plants Endanger Milwaukee-Area Residents



For more than a decade, residents in St. Francis, Wisconsin have been complaining about smells. Sometimes putrid and often abrasive, these smells wafted over local residents from the nearby Mid-America Steel Drum plant.

The barrel refurbishing plant has been at the center of an investigative series by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, called “Burned.” The series was spurred by a safety consultant, who uncovered some of the unsafe practices at one of the plants. 

"What he saw inside the plant so concerned him that he turned into a whistleblower, and started secretly recording the safety manager who worked for the company. And that manager was describing concerns that he had about safety and the fact that it did not appear to be destined to be fixed any time soon," says John Diedrich, a reporter and assistant editor for the Journal Sentinel's investigative team. 

Diedrich has been one of the driving forces behind the "Burned" series, which has led to a number of investigations by both state and federal agencies. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have all launched investigations. 

According to Diedrich, the investigation by the Wisconsin DNR found 19 violations, which they have now forwarded to the Wisconsin Department of Justice for "possible litigation."

"That's significant because while DNR has not issued fines at this point, those could be forthcoming. There also could be a lawsuit in state court against the companies forcing these changes. These violations that have been leveled by the DNR involve air and hazardous waste violations, so we'll see where that goes," he says. 

Joy Powers is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.