Residents demand answers about hazardous waste site

By Gus Bode

About 20 people participated in a demonstration Wednesday voicing their frustration at the lack of answers to possible health risks posed by the hazardous waste at the former Koppers Wood Treatment Plant at 1555 North Marion St.

Carrying signs that read “What about the children?” and “Not in my neighborhood,” residents marched from the gate of the property at the end of North Wall Street to Thomas School. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was hosting an open house in the school’s cafeteria to provide information to residents about the effort to clean up the site, which was a plant that manufactured railroad ties and telephone poles.

Florence English, a resident of Carbondale’s northeast side, said the site worries her. She was at the march searching for answers.

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“I grew up in that green house right there,” she said, pointing to a house visible from the Koppers gate. “I want to know – is my health going to be okay?”

The Koppers Wood Treatment plant produced railroad ties and telephone poles from 1905 until 1991. Creosote, classified by the U.S. EPA as a cancer-causing agent, was used to treat the wood products. An unknown quantity of the substance was spilled at the site between 1905 and the early 1980s, contaminating soil and groundwater. Beazer East, a company based in Pittsburgh, Pa., bought the site in 1988 and is paying for the cleanup.

Representatives from the U.S. EPA, the Illinois EPA, the Illinois Department of Public Health and Beazer East were at Thomas School handing out documents, answering questions and listening to residents’ concerns.

Robert Rowe, a Koppers employee for more than 20 years, said he quit on the advice of his doctor.

“I was hurting inside,” Rowe said. “The doctor told me I’d been working with creosote too long.”

Many of the residents expressed concern that the Carbondale city government was not communicating with them about the Koppers site.

“We got that complaint all evening,” said Carolyn Bury, a U.S. EPA project manager for the site.

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Bury said the U.S. EPA regularly sends updates to the city. Documents that describe the history of the site and the cleanup project are on file at the Carbondale public library.

Elva Liddell, a resident of Carbondale’s northeast side, said she wasn’t satisfied with the open house event.

“We don’t need an open house, we need a public forum,” Liddell said. “They aren’t getting the information across effectively. We need a question and answer session.”

Rich Whitney, Green Party candidate for state representative, said a detailed health assessment should be conducted on residents of Carbondale’s northeast side.

“I’ve made this a part of my campaign,” Whitney said. “I’m going to be pursuing it whether or not I get elected.”

Paul Alessio, project manager for Beazer East, said the cleanup is scheduled for completion in November 2005. Upon completion, the land should be suitable for commercial-industrial use.

“It’s close to the town, and it’s close to the railroad tracks,” Alessio said. “It’s a good site.”

Alessio said Beazer East is responsible for the $10.8 million cleanup.

“It’s all on our nickel,” he said.

The U.S. EPA will be keeping watch on the site. Alessio said the U.S. EPA required Beazer East to post insurance equal to the cost of monitoring the site for 30 years after the completion of the cleanup.

“It will never be touched,” Alessio said.

Carbondale city council members Lance Jack and Chris Wissman both attended the open house.

Jack said he was there to learn more about the waste site. He said he gets information about the site from city staff, but he wanted to learn more detail.

Wissman said he became aware of the Koppers site before he was elected to the city council.

“Obviously this is an issue that affects the citizens of Carbondale,” Wissman said.

An engineering study was presented to the Carbondale City Council, Wissman said, but it was too technical.

“I said, ‘I don’t understand a word of this,'” Wissman said.

Since then, Wissman said, he has tried to keep up with the various documents that are sent to the city concerning the site.

Beazer East also worked with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency in preparing for the cleanup. American Indian arrowheads were discovered on the site. Alessio said an area was designated as an archeological site and fenced off to preserve its historical value.

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