Ameren to Begin Decontaminating Champaign’s 5th and Hill
In about a week, Ameren Illinois is poised to decontaminating soil at the Fifth and Hill street site in Champaign, located in an area that once housed a manufactured gas plant.
Ameren now own the property. The decontamination process is expected to take up to six months, and it involves using steel pipes to inject a chemical into the ground that is meant to break down the toxicity of the soil.
The chemical, which consists of iron and hydrogen peroxide, will be injected at various depths from approximately three to 40 feet.
Brian Martin is a consulting environmental scientist for Ameren, and he is the project manager of the cleanup effort. He said the chemicals used will not be hazardous to the general public.
“It doesn’t present any odor concerns, anything like that,” Martin said. “People around the property won’t notice pretty much anything. All the work is going to be done on our property, and what it does is essentially oxidize the contaminants. It breaks them down into harmless, essentially water, carbon dioxide and other innocuous compounds.”
From 2009 through 2011, Ameren excavated soil from the site by replacing contaminated soil with clean soil. Claudia Lennhoff, the executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said Ameren should return to that process.
“While we’re glad that the contamination there is being treated, we question about whether that form of remediation is good enough compared to what was done on the rest of the property,” Lennhoff said.
The Illinois’ Environmental Protection Agency approved the cleanup project, which begins Monday.
Excavation work continues at the site that once housed a manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
Ameren Illinois is working on the corner of 5th and Hill Streets to clear soil that is suspected of having traces of the pollutant coal tar. Most of the work to remove the soil has taken place underneath a large protective tent, but on Thursday workers dug about three feet of dirt outside of the tent.
That sparked concerns from the health care advocacy group, Champaign County Health Care Consumers. The group said a monitoring device that checks for dangerous chemicals went off, raising the possibility that nearby communities might be at risk.
"The vapors and the dust that comes up from this type of excavation are highly toxic and this is a highly irresponsible activity to do," the group's executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, said.
But Ameren spokesperson Leigh Morris dismissed that claim, saying no air monitoring equipment recorded anything that would have raised health or safety concerns. Morris said both Ameren and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency were checking the excavation area Thursday with air monitoring equipment, which did not identify any red flags.
"There was never any type of a health concern," Morris explained. "There was some dust. The dust was caused from gravel. We did receive one complaint about that, and we watered the gravel down to end the dust problem."
The excavation happened on the edge of a gate, near two buildings used by the Center for Women in Transition. Site supervisor Jacob Blanton said there was no way the tent could have been moved with nearby power lines and a narrow alley in the way.
Morris said some additional digging outside of the protective tent will likely be performed in July.
Back in April, Champaign agreed to plug a pipe suspected of having dangerous chemicals near the Boneyard Creek, which extends to the site where the gas plant once stood. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has said there is no evidence to suggest coal tar has made its way from the plant into the pipeline.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)