City-hired firm to do own testing on Koppers site

By Gus Bode

Analysis should bring residents ‘peace of mind’

An additional 30 to 60 days has been added to the city’s contract with a local engineering firm to give engineers time to test soil in addition to reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency’s work on the former Koppers Wood Treatment facility, City Manager Jeff Doherty said.

Carbondale City Council voted 5-2, with Councilmen Lance Jack and Chris Wissmann dissenting, to hire Hurst-Rosche Engineering Inc., a local engineering firm with experience in environmental cleanup, to review the EPA’s process of cleanup and containment of creosote, a carcinogen used by the plant to treat wood, which spilled into the soil and surrounding creeks in the 1930s.

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Several council members and Carbondale residents expressed concern over the fact that Hurst-Rosche would simply be reviewing the EPA’s work and asked if the Hillsboro-based office could do its own soil testing.

Mayor Brad Cole responded by saying he would personally ask Beazer East Inc., current owner of the site, if the firm could do independent sampling of the soil.

Beazer East Inc., which has been working closely with the EPA and funding the more than $10 million bill in cleanup, has agreed to let Hurst-Rosche sample the soil, though project manager Paul Alessio said he would like members of his own engineering crew to accompany Hurst-Rosche engineers to collect and test samples from identical locations.

“We have no problem with them doing independent sampling,” Alessio said. “We have nothing to hide, everything is on the table. But everything has to be done very carefully when testing.”

Alessio said it helps to have a backup to Hurst-Rosche’s testing and the accompanying crew from Beazer East will only help mitigate the risks.

Upon completion, Doherty said the firm would present a recommendation to the council as to how to proceed from there.

Priscilla Pimentel, a member of the Energy and Environmental Advisory Committee, which originally requested the city look for a second opinion about the Koppers site, said she thought the independent testing would bring peace of mind to Carbondale residents.

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Koppers is one of many sites the EPA is working on, she said, and another firm working strictly for the city on only one site would reassure citizens that the EPA is doing as it should.

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.

Carolyn Bury, EPA project manager, said a large quantity of creosote was spilled 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 creating a landfill with a special lining to 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 addressed.

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

Reporter Haley Murray can be reached at [email protected]

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