RURAL MURDOCK — Zala Swigart believes the private company that took over the reclamation of the idled Murdock Mine in northeast Douglas County is not doing all it could to ensure the safety of area residents.
"I can't imagine why anyone in their right mind would think this is OK," she said.
Swigart was one of two residents who took part in a press conference held by the Prairie Rivers Network announcing the Illinois attorney general's office has filed a complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board alleging that Alpena Vision Resources has polluted the air and a stream near the site because of improper disposal of waste from various places in Illinois, including Champaign-Urbana, Decatur and Danville. The complaint alleges that Alpena has not handled the waste in a manner that complies with its permits, causing water and air pollution. The complaint calls for revocation of the company's permits and fines.
The details of those complaints were published in Wednesday's News-Gazette.
Swigart, who lives downwind of the mine, said that the odor from the disposed waste is "terrible."
"It smells like something has died," she said. "It takes my breath away."
Swigart said she contacted the Illinois EPA to report the odor and calls them any time she smells the odor.
She has also witnessed coal ash visible in the air.
Officials with Alpena have not returned phone calls to The News-Gazette for comment.
Alpena has been accepting approved types of waste, including lime sludge from the Decatur and Danville water-treatment plants; sludge from the Urbana Champaign Sanitary District; and gypsum, a lactic acid by-product, from Archer Daniels Midland Co. in Decatur, among other types of waste from other places in Illinois.
"I watched them bring load after load in on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day," Swigart said. "I prayed that they would stop."
She said she refuses to drink her own water because she is afraid of pollutants from the waste making its way into her well. Swigart said it is also difficult for her to leave her windows open or even go outside her home because of the odor.
"I just want to be able to go outside with my nieces and nephews," she said.
Jeri Luth, who farms with her husband, Michael Luth, directly to the south of the mine, also spoke at the press conference.
"What is frustrating is the stuff being dumped in this mine isn't even from our community," she said. "It is shipped here from communities who don't want to deal with it."
Luth said the smell is very strong from the mine and the area around her home often smells like human waste.
"It's here and it's not going anywhere," she said. "We are stuck with the long-term consequences."
Traci Barkley, from the Prairie Rivers Network, said the group is advocating for the residents and was trying to pressure state agencies to enforce the regulations.
Barkley said the former mine was more like a landfill and as such, should adhere to the pollution controls that are required of landfills.
Barkley said she felt the Department of Natural Resources, which deals with mine permitting, was not capable of making decisions about landfilling.
"We know that landfill regulations are in place to protect residents," she said. "Skirting those regulations is really unfair."
There will be community meeting at 2 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Murdock Community Center to discuss the alleged pollution issues with the Murdock Mine.
Rep. Chapin Rose is scheduled to attend.