Southeast Rockford

UPDATE

Southeast Rockford Groundwater Contamination Superfund Project

Residential Indoor Air Sampling

March 2003

Rockford, Illinois

When will the Illinois EPA conduct indoor air sampling?

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) plans to sample indoor air in at least ten Southeast Rockford homes in late May or June. Actual sample dates depend upon the weather. At least five of these homes will be in the residential neighborhood near Area 7 and five in the neighborhood near Area 4. (See the map below.)

Why is the Illinois EPA sampling indoor air?

The Illinois EPA has found groundwater (water beneath the ground) contaminated by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Southeast Rockford. VOCs are compounds containing carbon that volatilize (evaporate or turn to vapor) readily under certain conditions. These contaminants originate from four major source areas. (See the map below.) In 1992 and 1993, the Illinois EPA tested indoor air in homes located near the source areas to make sure that vapors from these contaminants were not seeping into nearby basements.

The Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois EPA evaluated the 1992 and 1993 sample results and determined that harmful levels of vapors were not in the basements sampled. Since harmful levels of vapors were not found in homes near the sources of contamination, there was no need to sample homes farther away. The Illinois EPA is resampling homes this spring to make sure that conditions have not changed.

Why isn't the Illinois EPA sampling homes near Areas 9/10 and 11?

The Illinois EPA does not plan to sample homes near Areas 9/10 and 11, because those homes are located a greater distance from the source areas and, for the most part, are upgradient from these areas. Upgradient means that contaminated groundwater is flowing from the source away from the homes.

Will the sampling this spring differ from sampling conducted in 1992 and 1993?

Yes, somewhat. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) issued new draft final guidance on evaluating the possibility of underground VOC vapors entering homes. In 1992 and 1993, the State of Illinois was in the forefront of this type of investigation since indoor air sampling was not routinely performed at sites with VOC contamination. Since that time, scientists have increased their understanding of VOCs. They have also increased their understanding of equipment used in indoor air monitoring, so both the sampling methods and the guidelines for evaluating the results have improved. The new draft guidance incorporates this new knowledge.

This draft guidance has gone through extensive review, and the U.S. EPA believes it is a technically sound document. The U.S. EPA accepted public comments on the draft guidance until February 27, 2003. That agency is now in the process of evaluating those comments to determine whether the draft guidance is acceptable, or whether it should be changed in response to public comments. The Illinois EPA will use the draft guidance to evaluate the indoor air sample results.

How will the Illinois EPA decide which houses to sample?

The Illinois EPA will use several criteria to determine which houses will be sampled. The criteria will include:

  • The homes will be close to either Source Area 4 or Source Area 7. If sample results show that underground VOC vapors are entering the houses located closest to the sources of contamination, the Illinois EPA may later sample additional houses farther from the sources.
  • Several weeks before the indoor air sampling, the Illinois EPA will conduct a soil gas survey near Source Areas 4 and 7. The soil gas survey will consist of pushing a probe into the ground eight to 12 feet, withdrawing soil gas (air between the soil particles) and analyzing the gas for VOCs. These results will be evaluated using the U.S. EPA draft guidance to determine if more than ten houses need to be sampled.
  • The Illinois EPA prefers to resample homes that were sampled in 1992 and 1993, if the homes meet other criteria. Comparison of 1992 and 1993 results with 2003 results would help determine if concentrations have changed over time.
  • The Illinois EPA will exclude homes where a resident smokes, because tobacco smoke contains a small amount of VOCs. The Agency will also exclude homes where a resident works in an occupation that uses VOCs, such as solvents. The presence of these chemicals could invalidate the sample results. Also, houses with sources of VOCs that cannot be removed, such as the recent use of paint, will be excluded.
  • The Illinois EPA will only sample homes where the homeowners and occupants agree to give the Agency access to set up monitors inside and outside the house for 24 hours. In addition, the Agency will need access to collect a soil gas sample outside the house, as close to the house foundation as possible. Occupants must also agree to ventilate their homes before the Illinois EPA collects indoor air samples and to refrain from certain activities (such as painting and bringing dry cleaned clothes into the house) for a specified length of time before sampling begins. Occupants also will be asked to allow the Illinois EPA to conduct a presampling walk-through of their homes. During this walk-through, the Agency would identify sources of VOCs, such as household products, already present in the house.

Is it difficult to evaluate sample results?

Yes. Many of the contaminants found in the groundwater and in the sources of contamination are also found in common household products such as glues, paints, cleaners, recently dry cleaned clothes, perfumes, fingernail polish removers, pesticides, carpet and wallpaper glue, liquid detergents, shoe polish, printers ink, chlorine bleach scouring powders and food packaging material. Monitors set up in the homes will show whether VOCs have or have not been detected. If they are detected, the monitors will indicate the concentrations. The monitors do not indicate the source of the VOCs. The task of the Illinois EPA is to determine if harmful levels of vapors are entering people's homes from contamination outside the homes, or if vapors originate from household products or materials. Such a determination may be difficult.

What happens if indoor VOCs vapors are found above levels of concern?

The Illinois EPA does not expect to find indoor VOC vapors above levels of concern. However, if such levels are found, the Illinois EPA will first attempt to determine the source of the vapors. If the vapors are from household products or other materials inside the home not related to the Superfund site, the Illinois EPA will advise the homeowner. The homeowner, then, can take appropriate actions to remove the source. If the source of vapors appears to be from contaminated underground water or waste, the Illinois EPA and the U.S. EPA will evaluate appropriate actions to remove the vapors. Actions could include providing the home with a ventilation system.

Are there harmful levels of vapors in the air outside?

No. The concern is that vapors beneath ground surface may accumulate over time in enclosed spaces such as homes. During the sampling this spring, one monitor will be placed outside each house sampled to determine if there are VOCs in the outside air from neighboring industries or other outside activities.

Will there always be a concern about the possibility of vapors entering people's homes from the contaminated groundwater or underground waste?

No. The remedies for the four major source areas include either removing or containing the waste and removing the underground vapors. Vapors will be removed from the source areas using methods such as soil vapor extraction, air stripping and air sparging. These remedies are designed to eventually remove the threat of vapor entering nearby houses.

Is it safe to drink the water?

If a home is connected to the Rockford Public Water Supply, there is no need to worry about the safety of the water. The City of Rockford routinely tests their water for contaminants. If water violates U.S. EPA drinking water standards, the City does not distribute it to the public.

Since 1989, the U.S. EPA, the Illinois EPA and the City of Rockford have connected over 800 southeast Rockford homes and businesses to the Rockford Public Water Supply, because the properties had private wells that were contaminated or were threatened by groundwater contamination. A few property owners refused these connections, so drinking water at these homes may violate U.S. EPA drinking water standards. Technically, these standards apply to public water supply wells and not private wells, because the U.S. EPA does not regulate private wells. The public drinking water standards are used, however, as guidelines to evaluate the safety of drinking water from private wells.

Construction of Remedies for Source Areas

What is the status of remedies for the four major source areas?

In May and June 2002, the Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA signed a Record of Decision, designating the remedies for the four major sources of contamination in the Southeast Rockford Superfund Project. In August 2002, the Illinois EPA applied to the U.S. EPA for $1.8 million to design the remedies for Areas 4, 7 and 11 and to conduct indoor air sampling. In September, the U.S. EPA awarded the Illinois EPA $300,000 for Southeast Rockford, which the Illinois EPA will use primarily for indoor air sampling.

The U.S. EPA did not award the Illinois EPA the full $1.8 million, because federal money for the Superfund is dwindling. Until 1995, money for this fund came from a tax on certain chemical industries. Authorization for the tax expired in 1995, and the U.S. Congress has not reinstated the tax. The Congress has appropriated money for the Superfund on an annual basis, but the appropriation is less than had been received through the previous tax and is not sufficient to meet the needs of all the sites in the nation. The U.S. EPA has verbally agreed to supply the rest of the money that is needed to design the remedies, but this money will be awarded in installments as the money becomes available. When the money becomes available, the Illinois EPA will begin designing the remedies for Areas 4, 7 and 11.

Is their other money available for Area 7?

Yes. In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Illinois signed an amended consent decree with the City of Rockford in which the City agreed to pay $5 million toward the construction and maintenance of the Area 7 remedy. The U.S. and Illinois governments gave covenants not to sue for further costs in Area 7 to parties that contributed to the costs the City of Rockford incurred by this settlement. A portion of this $5 million will be available for the design of the Area 7 remedy.

How about Area 9/10?

In January 2003, the U.S. EPA and Hamilton Sundstrand signed an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) in which Hamilton Sundstrand agreed to design the remedy for Area 9/10. Part of this design work will include collecting additional soil and groundwater samples. The Illinois EPA will work with the U.S. EPA to oversee Hamilton Sundstrand's work. The work must meet the requirements of all laws and regulations, and it must carry out the remedy the Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA selected in the 2002 Record of Decision. A separate order will be negotiated for the construction of the remedy.

In the January AOC, Hamilton Sundstrand also agreed to reimburse over $200,000 in U.S. EPA costs for past investigations of Area 9/10. The Illinois EPA has conducted these investigations with U.S. EPA dollars. Hamilton Sundstrand will also pay for costs U.S. EPA and Illinois EPA incur in overseeing Hamilton Sundstrand's design work.

Contacts

Tammy Mitchell
Community Relations Coord.
Illinois EPA
1021 N. Grand Ave. E.
Box 19276
Springfield, Illinois 62794-9276
Phone: (217) 524-2292
Thomas Williams
Project Manager
Illinois EPA
1021 N. Grand Ave. E.
Box 19276
Springfield, Illinois 62794-9276
Phone: (815) 223-1714

Repository: More information about the project is located in two repositories. One is located at the Rock River Branch of the Rockford Public Library (3128 11th Street). The other is located at the Ken-Rock Community Center (3218 11th Street). Project information includes the scope of work for the indoor air sampling and the 2003 U.S. EPA Administrative Order on Consent.