News Local/State

Additional Cleanup At 5th & Hill Site; Additional Testing At Nearby Homes

Construction equipment at the 5th and Hill manufactured gas plant site in Champaign.

Construction equipment at the 5th and Hill manufactured gas plant site in Champaign is being used to perform additional cleanup to remove soil containing coal tar and other production wastes. Jeff Bossert / Illinois Public Media

Inspectors with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were in Champaign recently, testing homes in one neighborhood for toxic vapors.  But they say even if those substances are found, it’s far too early to know whether they’re tied to a nearby site where a manufactured gas plant once operated.

During the week of January 23rd, the EPA conducted tests on seven homes in Champaign’s 5th and Hill neighborhood.

U.S. EPA On-Site Coordinator Andy Maguire says multiple tests for might be required to find out if there’s a problem.

“Results can change seasonally”, said Maguire. “What’s in the winter time could be different that what’s in the summer time. So we like to get a couple rounds of data, typically, before we take any kind of action.”

Maguire says results may require the EPA to install mitigation systems similar to what is used to remove radon.

A group of 5th and Hill residents organized by the group Champaign County Health Care Consumers have blamed odors and health concerns on the former gas plant site, where gas was manufactured from coal from 1887 until 1953. But both Ameren, which owns the site, and the Illinois EPA have said there’s no evidence to support that claim.

Another look at the work at the intersection at 5th and Hill.

Photo Credit: Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

But Ameren’s Supervisor of Environmental Compliance, Brian Martin, maintains the 5th and Hill site poses no danger to the neighborhood.

“The data we collected did not indicate any kind of health concern for anyone”, said Brian Martin, Ameren’s Supervisor of Environmental Compliance. “We shared our information with the residents, and with the Illinois EPA. Illinois EPA accepted our results, and we concur with the assessment.”

Ameren spent a couple of years at the 5th and Hill site, excavating the soil there to clean up coal tar and other production waste left by the process of making gas from coal. That work finished in 2015. But Ameren has returned to the site --- digging up what the energy company calls a small area of impacted soil that crews couldn’t get to earlier.  Ameren expects to finish its work at the 5th and Hill site in a couple of weeks.

The EPA’s testing at seven 5th and Hill homes was previously scheduled, and not related to the additional cleanup work now underway at the former gas plant site. Maguire said it’s too early to speculate whether any potential problems at the seven homes are tied to the gas plant site.