Fifth-Hill group excited to hear Davis' office asking U.S. EPA to check site reports

Fifth-Hill group excited to hear Davis' office asking U.S. EPA to check site reports

CHAMPAIGN — The organizer of the Fifth and Hill neighborhood group said on Wednesday that she was excited to hear that U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis' office has asked the EPA to make sure Ameren Illinois did everything it could do in its cleanup of the former site of a manufactured gas plant.

What is now a field at the corner of Fifth and Hill streets in Champaign has for years been the source of dispute between neighboring residents and Ameren. During the past several years, Ameren has excavated contaminated soils from the property under a voluntary environmental cleanup program, but residents have maintained that the utility did not go far enough in getting rid of chemicals they say remain in their neighborhood.

Though Ameren never owned the manufactured gas plant, which has long since been out of operation, it acquired the property through the decades and is responsible for its cleanup. The plant used a chemical process to turn coal into natural gas, which left behind potentially harmful byproducts like coal tar and benzene.

After reviewing what Ameren did to clean up the property, the Illinois EPA said the site was clean enough and no further remediation was necessary. Those living around the perimeter of the property say otherwise, and they fear chemicals may have intruded into their neighborhood and under their homes.

Saying their complaints to the state agency went unheeded, residents this month called on the federal EPA to look further into the site. On Wednesday, a Davis spokesman said the federal EPA is going to take a second look at the site reports to determine whether deeper investigation is necessary.

"IEPA is providing all their latest reports to the U.S. EPA," said Davis spokesman Andrew Flach. "The U.S. EPA is going to review those reports to see what's been done so far, what the state's planning to do in the future."

The review is expected to take at least until October, he said. At that time, the federal agency will determine what, if anything, needs to be done. The federal agency's authority over the site is limited, however, as the environmental cleanup was conducted under the state's voluntary program, not the federal government's "superfund" hazardous waste cleanup program.

"Thought this was an issue where we could help," Flach said. "This is one of the things we do in our office is try to connect constituents with federal agencies and break down the red tape."

Claudia Lennhoff, the executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers and the organizer behind the neighborhood effort, said that her group is grateful for Davis' intervention and reiterated that "it is not fair or right that the Illinois EPA and Ameren have all but washed their hands of this neighborhood."

"We hope this will spur some action, whether by the U.S. EPA or the Illinois EPA, to begin a clean-up of all the known off-site contamination in the residential areas of the neighborhood, as well as an investigation to find any remaining contamination," Lennhoff said. "We hope there will be some transparency and that neighborhood residents who have been living in this contaminated neighborhood will be able to get information, and ultimately, get results and justice."

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