State News: Pollution Milestones, Steven Avery, Shopko Shutters

Polluted Sites Mark Cleanup Milestones

Wisconsin is seeing progress in its efforts to clean up its five most polluted sites on the Great Lakes. An official with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said the Lower Menominee River that runs along the border of Wisconsin and Michigan is set to become the first site in the state to be delisted as one of the most contaminated areas on the Great Lakes.

The river is one of five sites in Wisconsin that were listed as Areas of Concern (AOC), which the U.S. and Canada consider the most contaminated. The lower section of the river was listed among 43 sites under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1987. Sites that were designated as AOCs had significant impairments to beneficial uses of those systems.

The Lower Menominee was listed due to pollution stemming from sources such as arsenic, coal tar, oil, grease and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Those chemicals were no longer manufactured after 1977 because of evidence they build up in the environment and are associated with cancer and harmful reproductive effects.

The final impairment – listed for degraded fish and wildlife populations – was removed in February, according to Kendra Axness, AOC and Lakewide Action and Management Plan policy coordinator with the Wisconsin DNR. Axness said it’s possible the site could be delisted within the year.

“It will be, again, the first one in Wisconsin that’s been delisted,” she said. “Regionally, there have been others delisted.”

The Wisconsin DNR announced another cleanup milestone last week on the St. Louis River AOC on Lake Superior. Scientists confirmed the river does not show higher rates of fish tumors, leading to the removal of that impairment in February.

A previous study of other AOCs in Wisconsin such as the Sheboygan and Milwaukee Rivers have shown fish-tumor rates of around 30 percent or more.

Attorney General: Avery Shouldn’t Get New Trial

Steven Avery is serving a life sentence for the 2005 murder of Theresa Halbach and has filed a number of appeals seeking a new trial. But in a 19-page response to the latest request for a new trial, Attorney General Josh Kaul wrote, “Avery’s motion should be denied without a hearing.”

Halbach was a photographer who went to Avery’s Manitowoc County salvage yard to take a photo of a car for sale. She did not return from the assignment. Avery had recently gotten out of prison after serving an 18-year sentence for an assault that DNA ultimately proved he did not commit.

Police arrested Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, in connection with Halbach’s murder. In 2006, both were convicted and are serving life sentences in prison.

In February 2019, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals approved Avery’s request for an evidentiary hearing. Chicago attorney Kathleen Zellner, known for her work freeing wrongly convicted people, represents Avery.

Zellner and Avery argue the state did not properly test bone fragments found in Radant Quarry near Avery’s house. They also say the state wrongly turned over other bone fragments to the Halbach family for internment.

Kaul wrote that those bones and tissue are preserved, along with a thigh-bone fragment with attached tissue, and were not among those returned to the Halbach family. The response read that none of the bone fragments recovered from the quarry were identifiable. The state transferred the material to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, but the FBI reported the fragments were too degraded for further analysis.

Shopko to Shutter Remaining Stores

Shopko will close its remaining 39 stores and optical lab by June 16, leaving about 1,715 people without jobs.

The Wisconsin company could not find a buyer despite its “best efforts,” Shopko’s chief human resources officer wrote in a letter to the state’s Department of Workforce Development (DWD).

The recent announcement brings the total number of layoffs to 2,496 statewide since the Ashwaubenon-based retailer filed for bankruptcy in mid-January, according to a DWD press release. A Shopko representative declined to comment.

“Shopko has been an integral economic fixture in many Wisconsin towns and cities,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said in a statement. “The changes resulting from these closures will be felt by hard-working Wisconsinites in many communities.”

A Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notices letter that Shopko sent out points employees to resources and relief from state and local agencies such as the DWD’s Dislocated Worker Program and its workforce-development programs.

China Policy Causing Ripple Effects for Recycling

A policy change in China is causing waste haulers and local governments in Wisconsin to take a closer look at what residents put in their recycling bins.

In 2017, China established a policy called “National Sword,” which banned the import of plastic waste and set contamination standards for other materials that waste haulers say are “virtually impossible” to meet. Waste Management spokesperson Lynn Morgan said although most of Wisconsin’s recyclables are shipped to the eastern United States – not China – there is still a backlog because those coastal states were major exporters to China.

She said companies that buy recyclable materials from sources such as Waste Management want cleaner material that costs less to reuse.

“The biggest problems that we see are plastic bags and food and liquids,” Morgan said. “If we could wave a magic wand and eliminate those contaminants from the mixed-recycle stream, it would make a big difference.”

Morgan said waste haulers are paying attention to recycling bins and dumpsters that have high amounts of waste in them, which can result in financial penalties.

Cannibal Sandwiches: A Polarizing Wisconsin Tradition

Cannibal sandwiches at Bunzel’s Meat Market in Milwaukee. Photo by Mary Kate McCoy/WPR.

Cannibal sandwiches are a longtime Milwaukee tradition. Come Christmastime, Bunzel’s Meat Market goes through more than 1,000 pounds of raw beef and about 250 pounds of raw onions exclusively for cannibal sandwiches.

Jeff Zupan, Bunzel’s operations manager, says not to knock it until you’ve tried it.

“With all of our new customers … they watch somebody buy it, and they’re like, ‘What are you going to do with it?’ We’re going to eat it raw. And they gasp,” he said.

“If you like food, you have to try it,” Zupan insisted.

Yet try it with caution because not all cannibal sandwiches are created equal.

Dr. Zorba Paster – a longtime cannibal-sandwich fan and public-radio host – said that although there will always be a risk with eating cannibal sandwiches, there are steps you can take to lower it.

“The best cannibal sandwich with the lowest risk is if you take steak, or something like steak, and you grind it up,” he said. “The worst cannibal sandwich is if you simply eat ground beef out of a package because then the risk of E. coli is greater.”

Paster said to aim for the leanest cut of beef you can get; let your butcher know you’re using the meat for cannibal sandwiches; and ask for it to be freshly ground with a clean grinder.

And don’t dawdle. Eat the meat the same day you buy it – and preferably before the end of the party.

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