CLINTON — The landfill that spurred government action to protect the Mahomet Aquifer and the way the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency was handling it drew new criticisms from state Sen. Chapin Rose this week.
Rose said that he was concerned upon learning that groundwater testing samples near the landfill turned up evidence of two chemicals that do not occur naturally. But he was even more concerned when he learned that the state EPA had not shared that information with the federal EPA, which is considering the landfill's application to accept chemical waste.
Clinton Landfill in DeWitt County wants to store polychlorinated biphenyls in a special landfill on its property; it has applied for and is awaiting federal approval to store the chemicals.
The company also owns a separate, closed landfill nearby — the old Clinton municipal landfill — which operated under older standards and accepted all kinds of trash.
The landfills sit above the Mahomet Aquifer, the underground source of drinking water for as many as 750,000 residents in central Illinois.
The two chemicals — dichloroethene and trichloroethene (or DCE and TCE) — both showed up in groundwater at two monitoring wells in a first round of the landfill's own routine tests late last year. In a second round of tests, the chemicals had gone away. The landfill reported the results to the Illinois EPA.
The potential presence of those chemicals is one thing, Rose said. But the fact that the Illinois EPA never shared the information with its federal counterpart, he added, shows a breakdown in the system as the U.S. EPA considers approval for much more serious waste.
"These guys are sitting here being asked to pass off on whether this is a safe place to put PCBs or not, and we've got existing problems with the structure that's already there," Rose said. "We've got exceedances from a point of unknown origin."
The "unknown origin" question is also troubling, Rose said. On Thursday, a landfill official said the chemicals may have come from the older, closed landfill that was built and operated under outdated standards and which the landfill is now working to correct.
Rose said the evidence indicates the chemicals may have escaped from one of the landfill's newer waste areas that were built and operate under modern standards.
The answer hasn't been determined, but Rose said that's part of the problem.
"That's kind of my point," Rose said. "It's a big question mark as to what's going on."
Chris Coulter, vice president of Peoria Disposal Company, which owns the landfill, said the chemicals detected in the groundwater may have come from the older municipal waste landfill for which his company is responsible because it bought the site.
Landfill officials are working under a plan to shore up that waste unit.
"We've been administering that," Coulter said. "It's the right plan; it's stabilized things. We're in complete compliance with all our permits."
Coulter said that older, closed landfills that operated under outdated standards have been causing problems all over the place — not just at the Clinton site.
"You've got these closed landfills, and they accepted everything and they had no controls," Coulter said. "Those are the ones that have to be watched."
He said the new chemical landfill has been built to modern standards, and landfill officials have said its liners would be impenetrable for hundreds of years.
Nonetheless, Rose said more oversight is needed. Landfills are responsible for monitoring and reporting their own problems.
"The fox guards the henhouse," Rose said. "The landfills in Illinois are in charge of sampling their own groundwater wells and submitting the samples" to the Illinois EPA.
George Roadcap, a hydrogeologist with the Illinois State Water Survey, said the so-called DCEs and TCEs are industrial solvents used in mechanical cleaning processes. They are manmade and do not exist in nature.
"It kind of raises a red flag," Roadcap said. "We've had a lot of aquifers contaminated with this stuff in various parts of the state."
Since seeing the results, Rose said he has submitted the data to the U.S. EPA, and state officials will do independent tests. But the whole situation, he said, shows there is a lack of oversight.
"Who would have ever thought that something as important as groundwater, you're going to let a landfill sample and test its own data?" Rose said.