More toxic wastes barred

More toxic wastes barred

SPRINGFIELD — Four days after moving to ban PCB waste from the Clinton Landfill, Gov. Pat Quinn now is prohibiting the disposal of some manufactured gas plant wastes at the site located about 40 miles west of Champaign.

Manufactured gas plant waste includes coal tars, produced when coal was used to create gas to heat homes and illuminate streets in central Illinois cities 100 years ago. A manufactured gas plant operated near Fifth and Hill streets in north Champaign. Excavated soils from that site, including those wastes, have been disposed of at the landfill in Clinton.

The landfill is located above the Mahomet Aquifer, the vast underground veins of drinking water for about 800,000 residents of central Illinois, including all of Champaign-Urbana.

"I think what the governor has done and the Illinois EPA has done is no small thing," said Claudia Lenhoff, director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers.

"It's huge; it's important; it's a victory. We now have on record the governor saying that this stuff shouldn't be anywhere near our drinking water."

The Quinn administration announced its decision in a letter sent Thursday to the operators of the landfill, Peoria Disposal Co. The action is described as a modification of the permit granted to Clinton Landfill Inc. in 2010.

The administration contends that since appropriate local siting approval was never granted, the modifications can be made.

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, an outspoken critic of the disposal of PCBs and MGP wastes at the landfill, called Quinn's latest action "a partial victory."

"I think it's great that this appears to be more expansive than what it was last week. But I would caution that there already are MGPs at the site, and my next question is what happens with what's already there?" he said.

Lenhoff said she believes the state will test soils at the landfill for MGP toxicity. MGP wastes have been disposed of there since 2011.

"Illinois EPA will be testing at the landfill to check on MGP contamination and to make sure it doesn't exceed certain levels. If it does, they will have to excavate it," she said.

Officials with Peoria Disposal have not commented on the Quinn administration's actions, but Lenhoff noted they have options.

"I'm under no illusion that this is a permanent solution. The Clinton Landfill folks have the right to appeal this decision. They can also come back to the DeWitt County Board and start their process all over again for getting the permit," Lenhoff said. "But from a public health perspective, I would look at this as harm reduction. You sort of stop something bad that is happening right now and reduce the harm."

Both Lenhoff and Sherrie Brown, the Republican chairwoman of the DeWitt County Board, said state law needs to be changed to keep DeWitt County officials from having such a major say in the future of the aquifer and the areas's drinking water.

"Unfortunately, DeWitt County has a tremendous say in what kind of license is given to Clinton Landfill. We understand that. That's the way the law is written. That's part of what needs to be changed," Lenhoff said.

Said Brown: "Quite frankly, I'd like to see that law changed. I believe that Chapin Rose and other legislators could get in there and do it. The bottom line is that there is a county of 16,000 people deciding the fate of 800,000 people's drinking water. As much as I'd love to say as county chair that that siting will never go through — it's been proven that that siting isn't a good thing — I just can't guarantee that will happen."

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