State monitoring cleanup at site of fire in Hoopeston

State monitoring cleanup at site of fire in Hoopeston

HOOPESTON — A semitrailer load at a time, the massive amount of rubber, iron, brick and other burned debris left from the massive tire fire at J&R Used Tire Service Inc. in Hoopeston is slowly, yet steadily, disappearing as four excavators were continually sorting and clearing Tuesday.

The cleanup started early last week, and 50 trailer loads were hauled away by the end of the week, according to Joyce Munie with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's remediation section of the Bureau of Land.

Munie has been checking in on the cleanup weekly and arrived Tuesday morning to start her visit with a walk around the 10-acre fenced-in site at 103 Maple St., Hoopeston, stopping to check in with Mayor Bill Crusinberry and other IEPA officials and contractors who have been on-site daily. Crusinberry said he stops by each time Munie visits to get an update from her on various issues.

Metal from the site is being salvaged, separated and hauled to Mervis Industries in Danville, Munie said, and the money generated by that scrap is being used to pay for hauling other debris, including rubber and brick, to nearby landfills, including the one in Hoopeston.

"They're moving them as fast as they can," Munie said of the piles of debris. She said the site has dried out a lot and dust is an issue now. She said water does not work on tire dust, so the IEPA has been consulting with experts on some chemicals that can be used to keep the dust down as the excavators continue to move and pick up the debris.

"Hopefully within a month this will all be gone," she said.

Hot spots still lurk below the refuse, some still emitting light smoke more than a month after the huge blaze that started shortly after 5 a.m. June 19 when a spark from machinery operated by workers inside the used tire facility ignited tire dust. The fire quickly spread to tires, pieces of tires and large piles of shredded tires spread throughout the 400,000-square-foot former manufacturing complex. More than 20 area fire departments and more than 100 firefighters fought the blaze, and several blocks of residences had to be evacuated due to the enormous amount of black smoke rolling away from the scene. Firefighters had the blaze under control late the second day, but the Hoopeston Fire Department has continually dealt with flareups and hot spots since then.

Munie said the Illinois Department of Transportation scanned the site using infrared equipment during a recent flyover and detected 10 hot spots in the rubble. The Hoopeston Fire Department has a truck on the scene to immediately tackle the hot spots when the clean up crew gets to them, Munie said.

J&R Tire Service had been hauling used tires into the site and converting the rubber into various products, including mulch. IEPA officials estimate that the business had more than 1 million tires on site.

Shortly after the blaze, the Illinois attorney general's office filed an injunction in Vermilion County Circuit Court, alleging violations of air and water pollution against J&R Used Tires Inc., asking the court to stop the business from accepting any more tires or tire material or operating its facility on Maple Street until it develops, implements and completes a site remediation plan approved by the IEPA.

Munie said the business owners, Roger and Janie Rogers, are in control of the site now, and they are cooperating with the IEPA on the cleanup. Munie said the owners hired Lee Farms Excavating to do the cleanup, and the IEPA officials are on site to monitor the progress and ensure the cleanup is being done correctly.

Munie said Weston, a private contractor hired by IEPA, is also on site monitoring and documenting the cleanup. She said the Weston representatives are monitoring each semi load of material to ensure they are not too hot to take to the landfill. She said some areas of asbestos have been identified and that material is being separated, because it must be processed differently before it is hauled to a landfill.

Munie said the good news is the entire facility had a very thick concrete pad underneath, which acted as barrier to contaminants that could have seeped into the soil and groundwater below the facility. So, they are not as worried about soil and groundwater contamination now as they were in the beginning.

The biggest concern remains with runoff, either from water to fight the fire or rain, from the site. In the initial firefighting, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water was being poured onto the blaze, and firefighters, city workers and U.S. EPA officials worked quickly to dam a drainage ditch across Illinois 9 where all of the runoff from J&R and the east side of town drains and eventually runs into a tributary of the North Fork River.

Munie said the U.S. EPA was on site for several days treating the dammed up water until the oil sheen was removed, but the IEPA had private contractors take over that process, because there are other contaminants that are still a concern. The contractors have a mobile sanitary sewer plant set up at the south end of the drainage ditch where the temporary dam continues to pool the water, allowing them to pump it through the treatment system and release it back into the environment south of the dam.

Munie said they will continue to do that until they are certain there are no contaminants flowing into the drainage ditch.

Once the site has been cleared of all debris, Munie said, the remediation process will begin, which entails soil and groundwater testing to determine if any action is necessary to remove contaminated soil, for instance. She said the concrete pad has most likely limited that, but there are small areas of concern, like an old well house on the facility through which some contaminated water could have gone underground.

Munie said because residents in Hoopeston are on city water rather than underground wells, they are not addressing that concern immediately, and they believe that they won't find much soil or groundwater contamination, but that won't be known until testing is complete. If some is found, what action is taken depends how serious the contamination levels, she said. If it's slight, no action may be necessary, if there are spots with higher concentration, it could mean removal of soil.

Munie said the entire process should be wrapped up in eight to 16 weeks.