Chanute cleanup manager addresses environmental concerns

Chanute cleanup manager addresses environmental concerns

RANTOUL — The project manager for a company in charge of cleanup efforts at the former Chanute Air Force Base says environmental concerns about Agent Orange and other agents are unfounded.

One by one, Howard Sparrow, project manager for CB&I Inc. of Greenville, S.C., addressed areas of concern about public drinking water supply, private wells, Agent Orange and low levels of dioxins:

— Water quality issue. Speaking at a recent Chanute Restoration Advisory Board meeting, Sparrow addressed a comment that indicated in 2008, the federal government warned the village of Rantoul and Chanute Air Force Base that they should notify all children, elderly and infants with health problems that the water had contaminants and that they should not drink it.

"The Air Force's response to that is that is not a true statement," Sparrow said. "The village of Rantoul drinking water supply is perfectly safe for the public to drink."

Sparrow said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in 2008 reviewed available information for the village, which now operates five of the former Chanute wells and found no contaminants "detected at levels of concern."

The only notable item found as a result of testing was sodium, a naturally occurring mineral that might be a concern for people with high blood pressure.

Pete Passarelli, village of Rantoul assistant public works director, said at the November RAB meeting that the community's water supply is "rigorously tested monthly through a certified lab, and it meets all of the U.S. EPA-required levels."

He said not only are the wells tested, but "water throughout the distribution system" is tested on a bimonthly basis. He said the testing protocols include informing the public, and information can be found on the village website.

— TCE, high arsenic claims. Sparrow addressed a statement that three wells tapped into the Mahomet Aquifer — which supplies drinking water to much of East Central Illinois, including the Rantoul area — are contaminated with dioxins, TCE (a degreasing solvent commonly used in filling stations and on base) and arsenic, according to the 2008 federal report.

Sparrow said the report "did not identify any detections of dioxins or TCE" in the aquifer. Arsenic, however, was detected "very infrequently" but was not likely to cause adverse health effects. He said arsenic is present in many water sources throughout Illinois.

According to the EPA, arsenic occurs naturally in soil and minerals and may enter the air, water and land from wind-blown dust and may get into water from runoff and leaching.

Sparrow said comments that the level of the TCE found on base was twice "the severity of Camp Lejeune" were untrue.

Sparrow said TCE has been found in shallow groundwater and soil at Chanute in a maximum-sized area of 300 feet.

He said TCE contamination is being "remediated" at all identified sites and has not been detected above drinking water standards in any wells used for drinking water on or adjacent to Chanute property.

— Failure to test wells claim. Responding to a comment that the Air Force had not tested any private water wells since 2000, when dioxins were found, Sparrow said a sampling of wells south of the base showed a trace amount of dioxin, but it was believed to have been a lab error.

He said a sample of pure water sent to the same lab also found trace amounts of dioxin, backing the lab-error claim.

"The dioxin levels were very low," Sparrow said. "They were well below any public drinking water standards."

Eleven subsequent tests of the eight wells tested found no trace of dixoin. The testing ended in 2004.

Until that time, as a precaution, bottled water had been supplied to residents using the wells.

— Agent Orange claims. Sparrow addressed a statement that a document signed by an Air Force colonel indicating that 7 tons of Agent Orange a year were used on base, primarily in the area where the wells are located that supply water to the village.

Sparrow said the letter cited was from Lt. Col. Gerald Dantzler dated Jan. 30, 1970. The letter indicates the Air Force bought 2,4-D, a commercially available herbicide for use on the base golf course, and 2,4,5-T, for use on the base recreational area west of Paxton to control poison oak and poison ivy.

Sparrow said the Air Force conducted an extensive record search of Agent Orange distribution and found none was ever shipped or used at Chanute Air Force Base.

"There is no historical information, data or analytical results that show Agent Orange was ever used at Chanute Air Force Base," Sparrow said.

Michael Glasser, a Florida resident who was stationed at Chanute in the 1960s, claims he was disabled due to having handled Agent Orange and had indicated to several local residents that he had handled Agent Orange on base.

However, in documents released by Glasser, the Department of Veterans Affairs Board of Veterans Appeals states that he "has cancer of the bladder, prostate and urethra as a result of exposure to hazardous chemicals during service" as an apprentice engineer entomology specialist in the Civil Engineering Insect and Rodent Control Division from November 1963 until his discharge in May 1964.

There was no mention of Agent Orange in the documents.

Sparrow said the Illinois EPA contacted Glasser, who told the agency he had used 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T.

"He didn't say he'd used Agent Orange," Sparrow said. "If you take those two chemicals and used them here, that doesn't make Agent Orange. He said he mixed them and that was the same as Agent Orange."

At the November meeting of the RAB board, Chris Hill of IEPA said he contacted Glasser and asked if he handled Agent Orange "and he would only say that he handled and disposed of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and asserted it was the same as Agent Orange."

"I asked again if he handled a product that was specifically identified as Agent Orange, and he said he didn't have specific information identifying the use of Agent Orange on the base," Hill said.

RAB member Denise Becnel said there is a great deal of concern in the community about the possibility of Agent Orange. She asked if public meetings can be conducted to inform residents that the chemical was never present on base.

Meeting facilitator Paul Wright said he thought that would be a good idea, but it probably shouldn't be the Air Force that is conducting the meetings.

He said the Air Force would be able to supply experts to speak at the meetings.

— No Agent Blue. Sparrow said it was never used at Chanute despite an assertion that it had been. Agent Blue is made of cacodylic acid, sodium cacodylate, surfacant, sodium chloride, water and an antifoam agent.

— Monitoring of rural wells. Sparrow responded to a question raised by Mary Walsh about whether her drinking water is safe.

Walsh lives two miles south of Chandler Road in the country. She asked if rural residents should check their own wells.

Sparrow said the Air Force has continued to monitor the wells on the former base, the perimeter, at landfills and at individual sites. He said groundwater monitoring continues.

He said the result of testing of private wells immediately south of the base showed no contamination. Because of contamination from the Air Force has not migrated to areas immediately adjacent to the base, it could not have migrated farther south.

Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit

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