Council seeks second opinion for Koppers

By Gus Bode

Local firm may do own testing on the site

Some Carbondale citizens are unwilling to accept the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s method of cleanup at the former Koppers Wood Treatment facility and the agency’s conclusion that soil samples surrounding the site weren’t hazardous to humans.

Obtaining an outside opinion came up once again in council chambers Tuesday night as the City Council discussed whether to hire an outside firm to review the EPA’s work and make a recommendation to the city about continuing the clean-up process.

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After more than an hour of discussion, the council approved the motion 5-2, with Councilmen Lance Jack and Chris Wissmann dissenting, to spend not more than $10,000 to have Hurst-Roche Engineering, Inc, a local engineering firm with experience in environmental cleanup, review the EPA’s work.

Although Wissmann and Jack said they approve bringing in a third party, they did not necessarily believe that Hurst-Roche was the firm for the job. Councilwoman Corene McDaniel, although voting for the motion, also said that if the city was going to spend $10,000 for a firm to “read the EPA’s research,” she wanted them to have access to the site to do their own testing.

In response to the council’s concern, Mayor Brad Cole said he would personally ask Beazer East, Inc. if the firm could do their own sampling in areas not considered by the EPA.

The EPA had scheduled to conclude the project this December, but unforeseen problems has forced the project to be extended for another year, EPA project manager Carolyn Bury said.

The Carbondale Energy and Environmental Advisory Committee requested the city obtain an independent review of the clean-up process, which current property owner Beazer East, Inc. has been supervising and paying for the bill that exceeds $10 million, said the company’s project manager Paul Alessio.

Although City Manager Jeff Doherty does not get a vote, he said Monday that he does not think another opinion is necessary.

“There are multiple parties, the (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency), the EPA and Beazer East, acting in public interest,” Doherty said. “I have confidence in their abilities to collect and analyze the information.”

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Doherty said the city did not specifically budget the cost of hiring an outside firm and would have to use money from the Support Services fund, which is separate from the general budget, to cover the cost.

The IEPA and EPA began to investigate the Koppers facility in 1981 after two cows died from eating grass contaminated with creosote, a cancer-causing substance that was used by the plant while it was in operation from 1905 to 1991.

Bury said a large quantity of creosote was spilled into nearby Glade Creek and in the area around the creek in 1939, which may be the reason why high levels of creosote and creosote-related containments, such as pentachlorophenol, lead and arsenic have been found in surface soils, groundwater and creek sediments near the plant.

The EPA has been working to contain the site since 2003 by essentially creating a landfill with a special lining that will keep the contaminants from seeping into the ground. If the container, called a corrective action management unit, should leak, Bury said there is an “alarm system” that will alert them, and the leak would immediately be taken care of.

Bury said the EPA will continue to monitor the site for a minimum of 30 years after project completion.

In addition to the site clean up, the EPA tested 14 soil samples last March along the boundaries of the plant property to ensure there was no risk of contamination to a nearby neighborhood. The tests revealed there was not a high enough level of creosote in the soil to pose a risk to humans, Bury said.

However, residents of a neighborhood within walking distance of the site, located in northeast Carbondale on Marion Street, have voiced concern about the EPA’s method of “covering the problem up,” and one former resident said he is pleased the council is discussing the possibility of another opinion.

Former neighborhood resident Willie Neal, who also worked at the plant for most of the 1950s, formed a non-profit organization, the Concerned Citizens of Carbondale, in response to neighborhood’s worries. He is currently seeking legal assistance to take action against the plant’s former owners for a number of resident’s health problems, which he believes were caused by the carcinogens seeping out of the plant, he said.

Neal also said he does not agree with the EPA’s test results that the soil is safe.

“They say they have tested the area, but there are areas where they have not tested,” Neal said. “They said there are no dangers to humans, but we feel that there is.”

Neal said numerous people who live in the neighborhood have multiple ailments, including cancer, or have died because of the contaminants,

“It looks like a ghost town out there,” he said. “They didn’t leave town, they’re out in Oakland Cemetery.”

Doherty said he has heard the group’s concerns and the city has passed them along to the Illinois Department of Public Health, which conducted a public health assessment in 2001 that reported the present conditions of the Koppers plant “does not threaten the health of nearby residents.”

Reporter Haley Murray can be reached at [email protected]

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