Formosa Plastics Corporation

Fact Sheet 3
August 2004

Illiopolis, Illinois

Background

The Formosa Plastics Corporation plant is located near Illiopolis, between Springfield and Decatur along I-72. On April 23, 2004, an explosion occurred at the plant followed by a fire that burned for several days. Illinois EPA, along with other agencies, have worked to test air quality during and after the fire, water quality in creeks and streams near the site and the safety of the drinking water supply. Illinois EPA will continue to have a long-term presence at the site in the form of oversight regarding site investigation and proper cleanup of contamination.

Dioxins and other chlorinated chemicals may have been formed during the smoldering phases of the fire at the plant. A few initial samples were taken to test for dioxins on the site. In addition, initial sampling of 13 public and private properties was performed on June 30, 2004 by Formosa, with oversight by Illinois EPA. The results of those screening samples showed the presence of low levels of dioxins. Illinois EPA requested that Formosa have the same 13 samples analyzed by a laboratory that could run a complete analysis for dioxins, which confirmed the findings of the screening tests.

On July 16th, Illinois EPA approved a comprehensive sampling plan for Formosa to look for dioxins and other compounds potentially related to the explosion/fire both on site and off site (including private properties and farmland). Results from the first round of samples collected on July 21st and 22nd have also been received.

What are dioxins?

Dioxins are a family of 75 chemically related compounds commonly known as chlorinated dioxins. They are mainly formed during human activities such as: the chlorine bleaching process at paper mills; chlorination at wastewater treatment plants; and in burning of municipal waste and backyard trash burning.

Do results from sampling on private property indicate that there are levels of dioxins or other chemicals that could be a hazard to public health?

No. Some of the results of the lab analysis on the soil samples show dioxins at levels slightly greater than the national “background” level. (Background levels exist across the country, since dioxins are formed through many human activities, as mentioned above.) The levels of dioxins found on private properties are not expected to cause adverse health effects for the general public, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). No other site-related chemicals were detected in the samples taken.

Are the vegetables in our gardens safe to eat?

Yes. The laboratory results show very low concentrations of dioxins in the vegetables sampled that are representative of background levels found in vegetables grown anywhere. IDPH recommends that residents wash vegetables in soapy water and scrub or peel root vegetables prior to eating, just as a precaution.

Is it safe for children to play outdoors?

Yes. According to IDPH, the low levels of dioxins found in soils on private properties do not present a short-term or long-term public health hazard. The route of exposure would be from ingesting soil, so it is not likely that people would be exposed to dioxins in sufficient quantity to cause adverse health effects.

How are people exposed to dioxins?

Nationwide – people are exposed to dioxins mainly by eating food products that contain low levels of dioxins. Meat, dairy products and fish make up the bulk of the dioxins intake for the general population, again as a result of the background amount of dioxins in the environment. Dioxins tend to accumulate in fat and tissue over time.

How can people limit their exposures to potential contamination from dioxins in the soil?

Precautions to limit exposures include good hygiene such as hand washing and washing vegetables from the garden. After children come indoors from playing, parents probably want to make sure they wash up and remove their shoes at the door. To further reduce exposures to environmental contaminants that may be present in the soil, IDPH recommends that residents maintain a cover of vegetation (grass) in play areas.

Where can I find out more about dioxins?

A fact sheet about dioxins can be found at the following web site for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR): http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts104.html

Will there be a comprehensive environmental investigation at the site?

Illinois EPA requested that Formosa initiate a comprehensive sampling plan for all site-related chemicals in soils, surface water and groundwater. Most of this work has been completed. The results from current sampling show some levels of dioxins on the site greater than national background levels. Worker safety issues will be addressed in a site safety plan being developed in conjunction with Formosa Plastics. The routes of exposure of concern would be ingesting soils or inhaling airborne dust contaminated with dioxins.

The focus of site work now will be on cleanup of the site contaminants and efforts to reduce any further contamination during demolition activities. Illinois EPA will have oversight during this work.

Will additional samples be taken on private properties?

There is no need for follow up sampling at most of the locations tested. However, Illinois EPA may conduct limited follow up sampling at private property locations at or near where the highest dioxin results were found. If new information should lead to a concern about off-site contamination, Illinois EPA will make sure that it is investigated.

What is the next step in the Illinois EPA’s investigation at the facility?

Formosa Plastics has hired two contractors to perform an investigation and cleanup of the damaged portion of the facility. It is anticipated that it will begin in a few weeks and will take approximately four months to complete. Illinois EPA will assist with development of the Site Safety Plan. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will have responsibility for approval of the plan. Illinois EPA will have a contractor on-site to observe and document work performed under this phase of the project. When it is necessary to disturb contaminated soil, steps will be taken to minimize dust generation and workers will wear appropriate safety equipment. Additionally, air monitoring will be required to insure that measures to reduce dust are effective.

Information Repository

Illinois EPA has established a public repository for site-related information at the Illiopolis/Niantic Public Library District at Sixth and Mary Streets in Illiopolis. As Illinois EPA receives reports related to the investigation, monitoring and cleanup, we will make these items available in the repository (in the library reference section) where residents may view and copy them at their convenience. The library hours are Monday and Friday – 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday – 1:00 to 8:00 p.m., Wednesday – 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Saturday – 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Illinois EPA will make updates to the web page for the Village of Illiopolis. You may find this fact sheet and other updates at http://www.illiopolis.com/

For more information, you may contact:

Carol Fuller, Community Relations Coordinator
Illinois EPA, Office of Community Relations
(217) 524-8807
Joe Dombrowski, Project Manager
Illinois EPA State Sites Unit
(217) 558-2564
Michael Moomey, Section Chief
Toxicology Section, Environmental Health
Illinois Department of Public Health
525 W. Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
(217) 782-5830