Ameren Plans for Cleaup at 5th and Hill Site Faces Skeptical Neighbors Wanting More
Ameren and Illinois EPA officials answered questions at an open house Wednesday about cleanup plans for a former manufactured gas plant on the east side of Champaign. Many of the questions came from people who don't think the cleanup goes far enough.
Beginning next month, Ameren plans to remove contaminated top-soil as deep as ten feet down from the former plant site at 5th and Hill Streets. Chemicals will be injected into the remaining soil and groundwater to break up toxins at deeper levels.A large tent and air handling equipment will keep dust and vapors from escaping into the surrounding neighborhood. The project will take about a year, and is designed to make the site safe for redevelopment.
But neighbors of the site, organized by Champaign County Healthcare Consumers, say they fear the cleanup process will miss contaminants that may have already been carried off site by groundwater to their properties, where it could seep into flood-prone basements.
70-year-old Ebbie Cook says he's lived near the old gas plant site all his life. He says he worries that toxic chemicals found in the coal tar left behind by the old gas plant could have direct effect on his family's health, and he'd like to see a more extensive cleanup. Cook says, "If it is contamination that's causing different types of illness, then my children and their children, if it's in their system, what could it cause?"
Cook was among those attending the open house at the Champaign City Building who said they noticed a persistent chemical smell when contractors hired by the city opened up pipes underneath Hill Street recently to do flood prevention work. In response, the Illinois EPA's Greg Dunn offered sump water inspections for any residents in the immediate area who wanted one.
"If you guys smell something, contact me", Dunn told the 5th and Hill neighbors. "Because we have an office in Champaign.I can have one of our inspectors come on over an kind of check it out."
Claudia Lennhoff of Champaign County Healthcare Consumers says the offer of home inspections was a welcome move. She also said that Illinois EPA officials had agreed to meet with the 5th and Hill neighborhood group to answer technical questions --- something they had refused to do before.
But Ameren and IEPA officials contend that the cleanup scheduled to start next month at the former plant site --- plus a very few neighboring properties --- is enough to make the area safe. They say soil and groundwater tests done at locations outside the former plant site have turned up contaminants in just a few areas --- and those areas will have cleanup work performed.