CHAMPAIGN — Ameren Illinois will enter what it expects to be the final phase of cleanup at the former site of a manufactured gas plant at Fifth and Hill streets in Champaign.
The company spent about two years excavating and replacing soil between 2009 and 2011, and will soon begin injecting a solution of iron and hydrogen peroxide into the ground around the perimeter of the property to neutralize any remaining contamination.
The property just east of Fifth and Hill streets used to be the home of a manufactured-gas plant, which extracted combustible gas from coal. The process left behind toxins such as coal tar and benzene.
The plant — which operated from the 1880s to the mid-20th century — was razed decades ago. Ameren Illinois never operated any facilities on the property, but it gained ownership in 2004 when its St. Louis parent company acquired Illinois Power from Dynegy Inc. Therefore, Ameren is responsible for the cleanup.
Ameren Illinois officials expect this final round of soil injections will enable them to receive certification from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that no more cleanup is necessary. Ameren Illinois has been cooperating with the state's "voluntary site remediation" program.
"We're satisfying the requirements of the Illinois site remediation program," said Brian Martin, consulting environmental scientist for Ameren Illinois. "We're doing all that's required."
According to Ameren Illinois, the solution reacts with contaminated soil and shallow water. The hydrogen peroxide breaks down into water and oxygen, the iron is oxidized, and the solution is used up in a matter of days.
Officials do not expect the injections to disperse more than about 71/2 feet from the Fifth and Hill site, and it should not have any effect on surrounding properties.
Once the utility gets clearance from the Illinois EPA, which it expects to receive in the next couple months, officials expect the injections will take about four to six months to complete.
Ameren Illinois spokesman Leigh Morris said the utility does not plan to hold onto or develop the property after that and likely will sell it.
Residents near the site have spent years pushing Ameren Illinois to complete more extensive cleanups in the neighborhood. Claudia Lennhoff, the executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, has been working with those residents and said on Thursday that they had very little information about the new and likely final round of cleanup.
"We're very frustrated because, from the get-go, we were promised that the residents would be kept informed of the process every step of the way," Lennhoff said. "They haven't been informed."
The Fifth and Hill Neighborhood Rights Group has maintained throughout years of cleanup that Ameren Illinois has not addressed all of the contaminants left behind that may be harmful to residents.
Ameren Illinois has disputed arguments that contamination left behind from the manufactured gas plant has escaped the property or that the remainder is harmful to nearby residents.
"It's frustration," Lennhoff said. "We don't have confidence in Ameren, and we have lost all confidence in the Illinois EPA to actually oversee their own voluntary site remediation program and to work with the community."