News Headlines

Hearing Held on Storing PCBs Near Mahomet Aquifer

By Sean Powers

Illinois lawmakers held a hearing Thursday at the Piatt County Farm Bureau in Monticello on proposed legislation that could prevent a toxic substance from being stored above the Mahomet Aquifer. Critics worry the substance could harm thousands of residents who rely on the Aquifer for drinking water.

The landfill’s owner, Peoria Disposal, wants to store toxic chemicals, known as PCBs, at the landfill site, but legislation in the Illinois House could allow county boards located within the aquifer's boundaries to have a say in that request. The measure is sponsored by Reps. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet), Chad Hays (R-Catlin), Dan Brady (R-Bloomington), Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth).

Champaign County Board member Alan Kurtz said storing PCB’s above the Mahomet Aquifer poses too much of a health risk.

“I don’t know if anyone in Central Illinois that would object to having PCB’s placed in our area if they were not placed above the aquifer,” Kurtz said. “Move it somewhere else.”

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency approved the Clinton Landfill’s permit to accept PCB’s, but the final decision rests with the federal EPA.

John Cross is with the Legislative Liaison with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

“We believe the landfill in question is built to be in compliance with those rules and regulations to be protected of human health and the environment,” Cross said.

Ultimately, the federal EPA decides whether to approve a permit for the project, and the agency still hasn't announced its decision.

During the hearing, Rep. Mitchell said many people are irritated their concerns are being left out of the discussion.

“People in DeWitt County, Piatt County, Macon County are just very, very frustrated I think with the process, and they don’t feel that Democracy has worked,” Mitchell said.

Several leaders of nearby municipal governments were on hand to endorse the legislation that would give more control to local government on matters like this one.

"The need for good clean water is the lifeblood of each community," said Mell Smigielski, who is Mahomet's village administrator. "A threat to our water supply is a threat to our community, both now and in the future. As much as safeguards are planned to be in place, there's no guarantee safeguards could within stand a major or natural disaster."

Monticello Mayor Christopher Corrie said it is unlikely people would be affected by PCBs that are added to the Mahomet Aquifer in the near future.

"At some point in world history, there will be a problem with those PCBs entering that water supply," Corrie said. "Many of us do not understand the complexity of the chemistry or the politics of this issue. We just know where are water comes from and we just want to keep it safe."

This year, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) joined local governments in opposing the plan to use the Clinton Landfill for storage of toxic substances. Kirk and Durbin urged the U.S. EPA to further examine the issue.

Worries about the Clinton Landfill’s proposal are fueling a quest for a special federal designation for areas that get drinking water from the Mahomet Aquifer. Local officials, including those in Champaign, hope that establishing a “Sole Source Aquifer Area” will stop the Clinton Landfill from taking in hazardous chemicals.

"Our hope is if we can show (the U.S. EPA) that we're a sole source aquifer, get that application process underway, and when we get that approved, they'll take that into consideration," said Champaign City Manager Steve Carter, who was also at the hearing. "But legally, I'm not sure it'll have an impact on this decision."