Soil, water testing scheduled near Champaign site

Soil, water testing scheduled near Champaign site

CHAMPAIGN – Testing for soil and groundwater contamination is expected to begin later this month in the north Champaign neighborhood surrounding a former manufactured coal-gas plant owned by AmerenIP.

Testing could begin as soon as March 31, and will include 38 new soil borings, including 29 off-site, and drilling 10 new monitoring wells, nine of them off-site, according to Brian Martin, a consulting environmental scientist for Ameren.

The testing will largely take place in the neighborhood surrounding the 3.5-acre site where a plant once produced gas from coal for heating and lighting, from 1887 until the early 1930s. The site is between Fifth and Sixth streets and between Washington and Church streets.

"The purpose of this kind of investigation is to answer the questions of how far the contaminants have gone off site," Martin said. "Where does the contamination stop? That's what we're trying to get at."

Philip Environmental Services Corp. of Columbia will perform the testing over two weeks at an estimated cost to AmerenIP of around $250,000, Martin said.

AmerenIP has indicated it hopes to conduct a multimillion dollar cleanup of the site during 2009. The utility has enrolled the site in the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's voluntary site remediation program, where AmerenIP will clean up the site under state EPA guidance and, once the cleanup is complete, will receive a "no further remediation" letter from the state.

The site pollution occurred 80 and more years ago, when coal gas was produced there. The process used heated coal and caused it to react with steam to produce gas. A gooey by-product of the process was coal tar, which was stored on site in tar wells until 11 years ago, when a partial cleanup took place.

Coal tar contains chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and more volatile compounds referred to as BTEX – benezene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene – found in petroleum products.

Previous testing by AmerenIP shows the site is contaminated with benzene and other chemicals and that shallow groundwater has been contaminated as well. Those tests also showed that some of the contamination has spread off site to the north, west and east. The testing will attempt to find out how far the contamination has spread.

Before any testing, AmerenIP will obtain permission from property owners.

According to a draft plan by Philip Environmental, soil borings will be drilled to a depth of 30 to 45 feet, with at least three soil samples collected from depths of zero to three feet, three to 10 feet and a third deeper sample.

Ten borings will be drilled north of the railroad right of way on the north side of the site; eight will be drilled along the Fifth Street right of way, seven will be along the south side of the alley to the south of the site, and four will be drilled east of the Sixth Street right of way, the report said.

Ten new monitoring wells will be drilled, one on-site and nine off the site. Five wells will be to a depth of 20 feet and four will be to a depth of 45 feet, the report said.

Water samples will be analyzed for BTEX and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds.

The leader of a group calling itself the Fifth and Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign, which has organized to help residents in the neighborhood, said she's pleased to learn that testing will begin soon.

"Definitely, we're glad," Claudia Lennhoff said. "People are obviously concerned where the toxins are moving and about the extent and the types of contamination."

Lennhoff said she's been surveying the neighborhood and that residents are concerned about the issue.

"Many people are interested in having their properties tested," she said.

Lennhoff said that residents might want to request testing if they notice discolored soil, or if they have soil where plants won't grow, or if they notice a smell in certain parts of their yard or in their basement after it rains.

Lennhoff is executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers. That community action group and a second group, CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, have formed the neighborhood group to make sure that residents who live there are treated fairly.

Martin said AmerenIP also might order testing of homes if test results show that contamination is located within 100 feet of a residence. The likely testing method will be to conduct soil gas tests immediately around a house, he said.

Either the U.S. or state EPA will likely be on-site and taking "split samples" of soil and water to assure themselves and the community the test results are accurate, Martin added.

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (1):Environment
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