Decades of toxic waste disposal at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant — including pouring millions of gallons a day of polluted water into Lake Wisconsin — have contaminated some nearby residents’ drinking water and raised concerns about the long-term effects on their health. But help may be on the way.
In the early 1990s, Jim Goodman and his wife began to worry about how the chemicals they were using on the farm might affect their children. The fourth-generation Wisconsin farmer decided to make the shift away from conventional farming at his Sauk County operation. Now certified organic, the farm includes 120 head of cattle on pasture, including 45 milk cows, and 300 acres of crops.
Levels of nitrate, one of the Wisconsin’s top drinking water contaminants, are increasing. Nitrate comes primarily from fertilizers, including manure, and puts infants and expectant mothers particularly at risk. A projected 94,000 households are drinking private well water with unsafe levels of nitrate. And many of them don’t even know it since few private well owners conduct regular testing.
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s Dee J. Hall received an award for reporting from her former employer, Lee Enterprises, on Thursday. The Lee President’s Award, the company’s highest journalistic honor, recognized Hall and Wisconsin State Journal Reporter Matthew DeFour for their investigation into a failed taxpayer-funded loan to one of Gov. Scott Walker’s top donors. The award, which was shared with State Journal Assistant City Editor Mark Pitsch, recognizes the “outstanding achievement in any aspect of print and online journalism, from reporting and writing to photography, video, graphics and presentation” in the past year among Lee’s 50 daily newspapers. The investigation involved Building Committee Inc. of Milwaukee whose owner, William Minahan, had given Walker $10,000 on Election Day in 2010. The investigation by Hall and DeFour found one of Walker’s top aides, Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, had pushed for a $4.3 million loan to the company, which was on the verge of collapse.
Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin’s 5.8 million residents are at risk of consuming drinking water tainted with substances including lead, nitrate, disease-causing bacteria and viruses, naturally occurring heavy metals and other contaminants, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has found.
In its first 15 months of existence, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. awarded $126 million in incentives to 24 companies without a full financial review. Some deals turned out well, others have failed. The largest — up to $62.5 million in tax credits to Kohl’s Corp. — so far has not generated the number of jobs or amount of capital spending promised.