Landfill official: Model shows no PCB leaks for 1,000 years

MONTICELLO — Officials with the Clinton Landfill insisted Thursday that PCB waste products could be stored there safely for more than a thousand years without leaching into the Mahomet Aquifer, the source of drinking water for 750,000 people in 88 central Illinois communities.

With 150 feet of clay below the proposed chemical-waste unit at the landfill, Daniel Drommerhausen, a hydrologist with Shaw Environmental Inc. said the computer models he ran of the site determined it would hold the hazardous chemicals for many centuries.

He called the location "a good site for a PCB-type landfill. The nature of PCBs is that they absorb to clay. That's why they'll be collected to the soils that will be brought into the landfill. And that's why when I modeled the landfill without ... (plastic) liners and just that 3 feet of compacted clay, after 1,000 years the PCBs had not moved through that compacted liner. And if you can imagine, there is an additional 150 feet of clay below that."

"PCBs will not get to the Mahomet Aquifer."

Drommerhausen made his remarks at a subject-matter hearing of the Illinois House Environmental Health Committee at the Piatt County Farm Bureau, attended by more than 100 people. The committee took testimony specifically on HB 6153, sponsored by state Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. The bill originally would have prohibited the disposal of PCB waste at a landfill less than 500 feet above an aquifer that is a community's only source of drinking water.

But both Jakobsson and Rose said after Thursday's hearing that the legislation likely would continue to evolve and probably would not be called during this fall's veto session. That means an entirely new bill would have to be drafted and considered by the new Legislature to be seated in January.

Meanwhile, Devin Moose, the chief design engineer of the landfill, also with Shaw Environmental, said that criticism of the permit application for the landfill by Illinois State Water Survey hydrogeologist George Roadcap has been rejected by both the Illinois and U.S. EPA, as well as the head of geological engineering at the University of Wisconsin.

"It's important to understand the other eyes that have looked at this besides Mr. Roadcap's," Moose said. "We're interested in the geology at this particular site. The geology that is 10 miles away is irrelevant."

He said that he has studied the site for more than 10 years and that it had been "thoroughly investigated" by other agencies.

"Mr. Drommerhausen took 3 feet of compacted clay, took the PCB waste we expect to receive at the chemical waste unit, and modeled it with a computer model that has been accepted by the U.S. EPA and the IEPA, and which is the standard in the industry. That computer model ... shows that we have no impact after a thousand years," Moose said. "So what did we do? On top of that we added four more liner systems, as well as a leak-detection layer."

He said "the best available information we have from authoritative sources, from the U.S. EPA research, says that it looks like the life of this liner is 500 years, and some experts say into the thousands of years. It can leak in 500 years and we're still safe because I've got three more liners below it. And once it gets through the man-made layers, I've got compacted clay to protect it for well over a thousand years."

By then, he said, "the PCBs would no longer pose a threat."

But a number of local residents and officials argued that the risk to the health, safety and the economy of central Illinois was too great to locate the landfill over the aquifer, the underground water source that stretches across much of central Illinois.

"I think something that may have been overlooked a bit is how important clean drinking water is going to be in the future," said Terry Lieb, president of the Piatt County Farm Bureau. "Do we want to jeopardize this for short-term monetary gain, to jeopardize our future generations having clean water?"

Monticello Mayor Chris Corrie urged lawmakers "to put aside the scientific measurements and the political processes that are involved and just look at one simple thing. That is, you've got PCBs up here and you've got our drinking water supply directly underneath it. Whether we'll be affected by that in our lifetime is highly unlikely. Even our grandchildren will probably not be affected. But at some point in world history there will be a problem with those PCBs entering that water supply."

Champaign County Board member Al Kurtz of Champaign said "I don't know of anyone in central Illinois who would object to having PCBs placed in our area if they were not placed above the aquifer. Move it somewhere else. I don't see anybody on our Champaign County Board objecting to moving it 20 miles away from the aquifer. We understand that we have to clean up this problem, which we caused ourselves. The point is to take it away, give no risk."

Champaign City Manager Steve Carter said "the economic viability of the entire area would be at risk" were the PCBs to leak into the water supply.

"While Champaign and the other communities would bear the burden of any problems with the aquifer, we've had no voice in the permit process," he said. "Many if not all who depend on the aquifer would oppose the approval of any chemical waste disposal at the site, especially PCBs."

The federal EPA is still reviewing the application for the landfill to accept certain PCBs. State EPA officials said Thursday that that decision is months away and that hearings would be held once it is released.

Attorneys for the landfill owners predicted legal challenges could follow.

Officials from other towns plead for safe place to dump

MONTICELLO — An attorney for the village of Summit pleaded with Illinois lawmakers to do something about "the landfill, pile, mountain, whatever you want to call it" of PCB-contaminated waste that sits in the southwest suburban village.

Jeffrey Jeep, a Chicago-area environmental lawyer, said he came to an Illinois House hearing in Monticello at the request of Summit Mayor Joseph Strzleczek. The hearing of the Environmental Health Committee had been called to review HB 6152, which as originally drafted would ban the disposal of material containing waste at a landfill that is less than 500 feet above an aquifer that provides the only source of drinking water for a community. The legislation was introduced as a response to plans to dump PCB waste at the Clinton Landfill.

Jeep said an auto-shredding business operated in Summit from 1957 to 1999 and then went bankrupt, "leaving this pile for Mayor Strzleczek to deal with. The U.S. EPA has found that this is an imminent endangerment to the people of Summit."

"A couple of years from now we're talking about people breathing dust that is contaminated with PCBs and lead, going into apartment buildings a quarter of a mile away and people coming out of their apartments and finding hazardous dust on their cars, dust that their children are breathing, that their children's bicycles are contaminated with."

Jeep said the abandoned auto-shredding business contains an estimated 300,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated waste.

"For 10 years I've been trying to find a solution to this problem," Jeep said. "Trust me, I've talked to incinerator operators, I've gone to Detroit to try to price out the disposal of this material. It can't be done. The U.S. EPA doesn't have the money to deal with it. And we need a solution to this problem. We can't take it to Detroit."

A landfill in Clinton for PCB products, Jeep said, would help create competition and lower the cost of PCB disposal at a Detroit-area landfill, currently the only facility in the Midwest taking such debris.

"And we'll be dealing with the transportation costs, which are huge," Jeep said. "Talk to your other mayors. Talk to the mayor of Waukegan. He can tell you firsthand what he is dealing with.

"Please base this on science and the law. Let's consider the other people in this state that are confronted with very real environmental problems that require a solution."

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

EL YATIRI wrote on August 17, 2012 at 7:08 am
Profile Picture

NO TOXIC CHEMICAL DUMP ABOVE OUR AQUIFER DARNIT

jimed wrote on August 17, 2012 at 10:08 am

The people that make the money form this pcb dump.Are concerned about the money and not the water.Maybe they haven't looked at the what if's.What if there is a earth quake.Etc.Etc.Etc.It is all about money,Money,Money!!

jdmac44 wrote on August 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Good point.  Isn't there any useless land in the southwest somewhere for them to spoil?

djz324 wrote on August 22, 2012 at 10:08 am

Did the model used to make this far-fetched prediction include factors that reflect changes in clay characteristics over time and as a result of exposure to chemicals? 

Did the model include real data on the characteristics of the 150 feet of clay that is claimed to exist between the dump and the aquifer? 

Did the model address other pollutants that will be present along with PCBs?

Did the model include factors that represent changes in soil conditions during prolonged droughts or as a result of accelerated groundwater withdrawals?

Did the model include factors representing lateral movement of contaminated plumes or contamination of shallow groundwater sources?

Did the model reflect the probability of spills and other accidents from all aspects of the dump's operations, including transportation of wastes?

Did the model use real data to determine the homogeneity of the clay layer or assess the area for fissures, cracks, altered pore characteristics or other anomolies that could compromise the integrity of the clay?

My guess? Even if the model did include these factors, the lack of site-specific empirical data almost certainly means that model parameters were estimates the authors hope will accurately reflect local conditions.