Oconomowoc manufacturing mistake cakes cars in powdered milk
DNR says incident unlikely to cause environmental problems
The powdered milk that caked cars and houses in southwest Oconomowoc last week is unlikely to cause any environmental problems, state officials said.
Department of Natural Resources hydrogeologist Steve Mueller said the department received a call from a concerned resident the morning of Wednesday, April 23, about a white substance being discharged by a factory on Concord Road.
He said a local warden investigated the claim Wednesday evening and determined that the dust was most likely a food-grade substance that came from the facility owned by Lake Country Foods at 132 South Concord Road.
Lake Country Foods LLC is a food manufacturer that specializes in blending and packaging powdered milk. The company has been based in Oconomowoc since 1998.
Tom Gnewuch, vice president of operations for the company, said that an agglomerator, a device that wets the powder and quickly re-dries it, malfunctioned during the early morning on Wednesday, allowing for the dried milk to escape out of a heating vent and into the community.
“If the system isn’t running properly, it can and will escape,” he said.
DNR said that neighborhoods within an approximate six-block radius of the factory were dusted, but most of the powder reconstituted back into milk after a late-night rain storm.
DNR officials told the company to clean up the remaining residue to prevent additional runoff into the storm sewers.
“I explained to him that we all drink milk, but if too much of this organic material gets into the water, its not good for the fish,” Mueller said.
Mueller said that its important that companies report leaks and contaminations quickly, partly to ensure that cleanup is quick, but also to prevent a public scare.
Lake Country Foods contacted the city’s department of public works, which did an early street sweep of the city blocks surrounding the plant. The company is offering residents impacted by the incident a free car wash coupon, which can be picked up at the company’s office during business hours until Friday, May 2.
Alderman Tom Strey said he heard about the incident from numerous residents and discussed the matter with Gnewuch.
“I had some really interesting conversations,” he said. “Nobody was too irate about it.”
Oconomowoc Fire Department vehicles located at the department’s Concord Street station needed to be scrubbed after the incident, Lt. Michael Laventure said, and some personal vehicles were affected.
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