CHAMPAIGN — City leaders and a group of area governments have filed a complaint before the Illinois Pollution Control Board alleging that Clinton Landfill is illegally operating a waste facility where landfill officials hope to soon begin burying potentially harmful chemicals.
Friday's action is another move in what has become battle spanning more than a year between the landfill and central Illinois government agencies which argue that a plan to bury polychlorinated biphenyls above the Mahomet Aquifer poses a risk to the source of drinking water for about 750,000 residents across the region.
The complaint alleges that — while the company received approval from the DeWitt County Board in 2002 to operate a more traditional municipal waste landfill just outside of Clinton — it did not seek the appropriate approval to operate a chemical waste unit. Champaign Assistant City Attorney Joe Hooker said the landfill should have gone through that county-level review a second time before it built a separate unit to hold the chemical waste.
Clinton Landfill has been operating the municipal waste facility for some time, but is awaiting approval of a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before it starts disposing of PCBs in the chemical waste facility. The facility itself, however, is built and ready to go.
Clinton Landfill officials could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday, but they have said that a permit modification that has already been approved by the Illinois EPA plus the pending federal permit would be all the legal clearance they need to start burying PCBs.
According to the EPA, "PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system."
City officials worry that the chemicals could leak from the landfill and eventually make their way down to the natural underground drinking water reservoir. Landfill officials have adamantly said that the chemical waste unit has been built with safeguards that meet or exceed all federal standards and that it will safely contain the chemicals for hundreds of years.
Hooker believes the new complaint in front of the Illinois Pollution Control Board could, at the very least, delay the approval of the federal permit. But he is also confident in the cities' argument that the chemical waste unit exists illegally.
"I think we've got a very strong argument," Hooker said.
City officials hope that the state's pollution control board would eventually force Clinton Landfill to start from scratch in the approval process. That means going back to the DeWitt County Board for local approval of the chemical waste unit.
Getting approval for a chemical landfill now could be more difficult than it was a decade ago when it was a quieter project. The so-called "local siting review" would launch a very public process in front of citizens and government agencies who have since become engaged in trying to block the chemical landfill.
The DeWitt County Board cast its approval for the municipal waste landfill in 2002, but elections have since reshaped the makeup of the board.
Hooker said that, at the time of the 2002 local siting review, a landfill representative testified in front of the county board that the business would never seek to store hazardous waste. He said that only further strengthens the cities' case.
Friday's complaint comes less than a month after officials launched an effort to have the federal government designate the Mahomet Aquifer as a "sole source aquifer." Such a designation might not affect Clinton Landfill's plans, but it would add another layer of review any time a federally-funded project may pose a threat to the natural underground reservoir.
Major highway improvement projects, public water supply improvements, wastewater treatment facilities, projects that involve animal wastes, and some rural housing construction projects could potentially be affected if the U.S. EPA approves the sole-source application, according to the EPA website.
A coalition of central Illinois agencies are cooperating to pay the legal costs associated with Friday's complaint. Those agencies include the cities of Champaign, Urbana, Bloomington and Decatur; the village of Savoy; Champaign and Piatt counties; and the Mahomet Valley Water Authority.