By Stacy James
Clinton Landfill, Inc. plans to store PCB-laden soil in its landfill above the Mahomet Aquifer, our drinking water supply! Opponents of this economically lucrative but environmentally risky venture are increasing in number as more and more people become aware of this stunning proposal.
The Clinton Landfill is located just outside of the town of Clinton in DeWitt County. The landfill has historically stored municipal waste, including household waste collected by the local waste hauler Area Disposal Services. In fact, Clinton Landfill, Inc. is a subsidiary of Area Disposal Services, Inc.
In 2007, the DeWitt County Board approved a modification to the landfill that would allow it to accept “special wastes.” Special wastes include various hydrocarbon compounds found in coal tar produced by coal gasification plants. The Clinton Landfill already accepts special wastes, and is awaiting approval from U.S. EPA to store high concentrations of PCBs as well. PCBs are probable human carcinogens with various harmful health effects.
If U.S. EPA approves the permit application, the Clinton Landfill will become the destination for toxic PCB waste from polluted sites around the country. Among those sites are Chicago-area waterways containing PCB-polluted sediments.
Fortunately, there are several groups that have formed in opposition to the operation of Clinton Landfill as a chemical waste facility. Among the first to take notice were residents of DeWitt County who formed a group called WATCH Clinton Landfill. This grassroots organization then reached out to legislators, governmental bodies, and environmental organizations. Subsequently, an intergovernmental coalition formed to object to the landfill’s plans to accept PCBs. The City of Champaign has taken the lead in this coalition, which also includes the cities of Urbana, Bloomington, Normal, Decatur and Savoy, and Champaign and Piatt counties, and the Mahomet Valley Water Authority.
The intergovernmental coalition has taken legal action to prevent the landfill from posing a threat to east-central Illinois’ primary water supply. The results of these efforts are still pending, as is the decision from U.S. EPA on whether the landfill meets the regulatory requirements for storing PCBs.
Simultaneously, Champaign and its allies have filed a petition with the U.S. EPA to designate the Mahomet Aquifer as a Sole Source Aquifer. If the petition is successful, this designation will require that certain federally funded projects over the Mahomet Aquifer receive special review for pollution risk by the U.S. EPA. Although the Clinton Landfill is a privately funded project, the Sole Source Aquifer designation is a tool to better protect the aquifer for generations to come.
Our local governments and public officials are to be commended for their leadership. But members of the public also have an important role to play. Here are some ways you can help: 1) if your trash hauler is Area Disposal Service, ask yourself whether this is a business you want to continue supporting; 2) submit a Letter to the Editor in your local newspaper, expressing your opposition to the storage of toxic chemicals over the aquifer; 3) contact Senators Durbin and Kirk and ask them to pressure U.S. EPA not to issue the permit; 4) voice your support for the Sole Source Aquifer petition at the upcoming U.S. EPA hearing (TBA); and 5) if you live in DeWitt County, support the County Board members who want to protect the Mahomet Aquifer from PCBs.
To learn more about this very important issue, visit www.cleanwater4midIL.org. But reading is not enough. Each of us should act in some way to convey that this business idea is not acceptable.
Stacy James is a water resources scientist at Prairie Rivers Network, Illinois’ statewide river conservation organization. She is also chair of the local Prairie Group of the Sierra Club.