Smith Douglass

Fact Sheet #4
August 2000

South Streator, Illinois

Background

For many years, this 124-acre site has been the location of fertilizer manufacturing which used naturally-occurring phosphates found in gypsum. The process used acid to free the phosphates to use in fertilizer production, and it resulted in a 25-40 acre pile/stack of acidic gypsum waste. The gypsum waste was piled into a strip mine pond and rises more than 60 feet above the pond surface. In 1989, Illinois EPA spent $500,000 to perform an immediate removal of hazardous waste at the site. The Agency is now faced with emergency cleanup and stabilization work. One of the previous owners has agreed to assist with the most immediate problem to safeguard surrounding residents and the environment.

Situation:

The next heavy rain could wash out a weakened berm holding the northwest side of a pond on the site, called Fresh Pond. That berm is holding back tens of millions of gallons of very acidic wastewater that has either run off or percolated through the large pile of gypsum waste. Release of that water to the adjacent Phillips Creek could cause a flood downstream to the Vermilion River. It could endanger fish and wildlife as well as any humans in the area at the time of the flooding.

Why has the State of Illinois placed this site under a seal order?

The site was sealed from public access in 1988 due to the presence of a large quantity of unsecured hazardous waste. Although that waste has been removed, other dangers still exist on the site. The large stack of gypsum waste is very acidic, as are the ponds adjacent to the stack. In addition, the remains of old manufacturing buildings present physical hazards to trespassers.

What physical hazards should I be concerned about?

If trespassers fall into the acidic ponds, they might suffer skin irritation or damage to eyes or lungs from the acidic water. If trespassers ride off-road vehicles on the gypsum pile, they may be exposed to acidic dusts from the stack or to acid water ponded on top of the stack. There is also a danger of falling from the stack and being injured. Anyone playing in the partially demolished buildings risks physical harm from unstable walls or overhead conveyor systems. In addition, heavy equipment and construction activities at the site are inherently dangerous.

What will be done to correct the situation at this site?

The immediate work necessary is to dewater the acidic pond on the northwest part of the site (Fresh Pond) and fill it with gypsum so that a breach of the unstable berm and a subsequent flood may be avoided.

When will the work begin?

It has already begun. Illinois EPA is working with a previous owner to move quickly to correct the situation at Fresh Pond. An environmental contractor for one of the previous owners began on August 17, 2000, the task of removing the acidic water from the pond nearest the creek and placing it in holding ponds on top of the gypsum pile.

What is the next step?

Once Fresh Pond has been dewatered to the level below the faulty berm (approximately 15-17 feet), the contractor will begin backfilling the pond at the berm to reinforce and stabilize it.

What previous cleanup work occurred at this site?

The State of Illinois spent nearly $500,000 during 1989 to remove various hazardous wastes stored on the site in drums and in both aboveground and belowground tanks. During 1993, a contractor for Livingston County performed incomplete demolition of site buildings. During 1996-97, a previous owner performed certain site assessment work.

Will the rest of the site still need cleanup?

Illinois EPA is evaluating the site to see whether the contamination present would allow the use of state or federal funds to do additional cleanup. We won't know the answer to that for many months.

Have private wells in the area been affected by contamination from the site?

No. Although results of sampling on the site show low levels of pesticides, semi-volatile compounds, metals, nitrates and fluoride, private wells sampled near the site (on three occasions) show no site-related contaminants.

Should residents have concerns for exposure to any contaminants on-site?

As long as area residents stay off the site and away from the gypsum pile, acid ponds and partially demolished buildings, they should not be exposed to any site-related contaminants.

Is there any penalty for trespassing on this site?

Yes. A person who violates a seal order of the state by trespassing this type of site is subject to a fine of up to $1000 and up to one year in jail. Remember that the seal order was placed on the property to protect the public by warning them to stay away from the site.

Who is responsible for the site?

Illinois EPA continues to explore potential responsible parties for corrective action needed at this site.

For more information, you may contact:

Carol Fuller
Community Relations Coord
Illinois EPA
(217) 524-8807
Maggie Carson
Public Information Officer
Illinois EPA
(217) 557-8138
Sue Doubet
Project Manager
Illinois EPA
(217) 785-6871