UI scientists asked for alternatives to dumping PCBs at Clinton

UI scientists asked for alternatives to dumping PCBs at Clinton

CHAMPAIGN — Scientists at the University of Illinois are being asked to review alternatives to disposing of toxic PCBs at a landfill over the Mahomet Aquifer, the drinking water supply for approximately 500,000 central Illinoisans.

The plan to assess alternative technologies was announced Friday at a news conference called by state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. It potentially could affect a request by Clinton Landfill, Inc., to dispose of PCBs and other hazardous wastes at its landfill site in DeWitt County, about 45 miles west of Champaign. The federal EPA is reviewing the company's request for a permit to dump PCBs at the location.

"At the end of the day we owe it to every citizen of Illinois to find a constructive alternative that's environmentally sustainable, that helps our neighbors to the north but also doesn't pollute and otherwise jeopardize our water supply in the process," Rose said, noting that several Chicago area suburbs are seeking places to dispose of PCBs.

He thanked UI President Robert Easter for making scientists at the Prairie Research Institute available to review options to landfilling the waste.

"He and I had a one on one conversation some months ago and I said, 'Bob, I refuse to believe in the century that we're in, with the minds and the brainpower situated right here in Urbana-Champaign that we can't come up with an environmentally safe alternative to PCB problems other than just simply picking them from at one site and putting them at another site. That makes no sense at all," Rose said.

Gary Miller, associate executive director of the institute, said scientists would look at "what are the alternatives to landfilling PCBs and to look at the latest research and do an assess and review what are those alternatives." Those alternatives could include incineration, and chemical and biological methods, Miller said.

"Part of the problem now is that landfills are generally the cheapest and easiest alternatives," he said. The options that would be assessed by the institute staff include technologies "that can be applied where the PCBs occur without having to potentially move them or they can be applied wherever they are being managed or disposed of."

No new fundamental research would be conducted by the institute staff, he said.

"We pledge to do a review of the options and evaluate those in terms of their sustainability," Miller said. "I live here and I drink from the Mahomet aquifer and I want our aquifer and our drinking water not only to be safe now but for my children and my grandchildren."

Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, brought his young daughter with him to the announcement.

"She illustrates what's important. I think companies are making claims about how safe this is going to be and how we have protections in place," he said. "Quite frankly I'll probably be OK in my lifetime but the question is what legacy are we leaving for her and her children? Are they going to be able to stay here and drink the water around here?"

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, cautioned that the process could take a long time.

"You know, this isn't going to be a short-term project. We're looking at a long-term effort that's going to come up from the idea stage, the research stage, where we are today and hopefully to the solutions" that scientists can develop, Davis said.

Rose said the technology review "could be a win-win for everyone. Obviously my constituents would win because we'd keep PCBs out of the water supply for a half a million people, but beyond that we have an obligation to help our neighbors to the north and throughout the region clean up their environments."

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