DEPUE — DePue’s Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) meeting on Wednesday attracted several community members — all anxious to hear results of soil samples taken from various yards throughout the village in December. The samples determined the level of heavy metal concentrations that could pose as a human health risk.
Charlene Falco, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s (IEPA) project manager, explained the pilot study was conducted in backyards, front yards, side yards, dip zones, down spouts and gardens. The three metals that became a focal point in the testing were arsenic, lead and cadmium.
“These were the ones that exceeded screening criteria,” Falco said. “These are the ones we are going to be monitoring during the clean-up phase.”
The IEPA screened each metal at a different criteria number. Samples that were charted higher than the criteria were deemed a threat and cause for remediation. Levels that met the criteria or sat below were deemed safe to human health.
The IEPA screened arsenic at 11.6 parts per million (PPM); lead at 400 PPM and cadmium at 70 PPM.
While the majority of all 1,300 samples were charted below the criteria, there were samples that came back higher.
The current sample results are still considered a draft, as the IEPA is still finalizing the study and figuring out a few inconsistencies found in the results. Falco said once the results are finalized, letters will be sent to homeowners who had their property tested, showing their individual results.
DePue Group disagrees with arsenic numbers
The samples have been completed, and the IEPA has charted the data based on the samples’ criteria numbers. But the DePue Group — Exxon Mobile and CBS Corporation— do not agree with the screening criteria the IEPA is using for arsenic.
While IEPA says 11.6 PPM is a safe level for this specific Superfund site, the DePue Group wants to see 20 PPM be used.
Russ Cepko, vice president of environmental projects with CBS Corporation, was present at the CAG meeting and explained his company doesn’t see a good reason to drop the criteria level to 11.6 PPM.
“What we try to do is have consistency with the EPA … Most cleanups in arsenic are between the 20 and 40 PPM range … It’s not going to significantly change the risk profile in your yard; 20 is a very fair, reasonable and safe level. So why would we propose something much more below that? It’s just not something we do if we’re trying to be consistent,” he explained.
A frustrated DePue Mayor Eric Bryant explained the village is trying to fight for lower criteria numbers because residents are exposed to all different kinds of metals in the soil. He pointed out how the DePue Group is always saying they want good relations with the village and want to move on with the clean-up process, but if so, why can’t they agree with 11.6 PPM?
“Don’t you think we’ve been through this long enough?” Bryant asked.
Cepko said the DePue Group is willing to start the clean up as soon as possible but wants reasonable consistency standards.
“Those are safe, reliable standards that we proposed,” he said. “No one wants waste buried in their backyard. Everyone wants their yard cleaned up to pristine conditions, and it just doesn’t work that way. It’s just a reality in what you do in Superfund sites. You don’t restore things to pristine conditions …”
A potential problem with lead
Another issue that’s putting a monkey wrench in the clean-up plans is figuring out whether or not the U.S. EPA will change the criteria number used for lead samples.
Falco explained right now the IEPA is using 400 PPM as the lead screening criteria number. However, there has been talk the U.S. EPA is going to change the criteria number to as low as 163 PPM.
“Four hundred is a certainty at the moment, and where that number will end up or where it’s going to go to, we don’t know,” Falco said. “Recently, the U.S. EPA has advised us to move on with the 400.”
The CAG would like to see the criteria number change quickly because if the clean-up process began and the number was changed from 400 PPM, the clean up would continue only removing levels higher than 400 PPM.
Falco said if the IEPA went ahead and adopted a number lower than 400 PPM right now, the DePue Group would have the right to come back and not agree with the number because it was not forced in any other Illinois clean-up sites.
If there was a disagreement, Falco said with the terms of the consent order they would have to enter into a dispute resolution process.
“It’s a formal process that ends up in county court, and a country judge gets to decide. It would not be fast, not easy, and you guys will be waiting until how many years for your clean up to occur,” Falco said. “We’re going to move forward with the same number we’ve used with other clean ups in Illinois up to this point … Hope and pray that the U.S. EPA comes out with that new number in the next six months ... It won’t be too late to incorporate it into this work here.”
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