Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on the public meeting representatives from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency hosted in DePue on Wednesday, June 29.
DEPUE — The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) has proposed a clean-up plan for the residential area within DePue’s Superfund Site. However, representatives of the village are challenging the plan, claiming it has deficiencies and only prolongs the time residents will be exposed to contamination.
IEPA hosted a public meeting in the DePue School gymnasium Wednesday, June 29, where IEPA project manager Charlene Falco presented the agency’s preferred clean-up plan before comments were taken from the public.
Three individuals took the opportunity to express their opinions about the plan. Each speaker challenged the facts laid out before them.
Eric Bryant, village president of DePue, said citizens are happy a clean-up proposal is being worked out, but they feel it shouldn’t take this long.
“When children are involved, there is always an urgency, and urgency has not been at the top of the ladder in dealing with our children over the last 20 years,” he said.
Bryant said residents are also disturbed with the standard level of cleanup being used for heavy metals arsenic and lead. IEPA plans to use a standard clean-up level of 21 parts per million (PPM) for arsenic and 400 PPM for lead — meaning anything above those numbers will be determined contaminated; anything below will be considered not contaminated.
Bryant questioned why the 21 PPM for arsenic is being used in DePue, when the standard cleanup level of arsenic being used in LaSalle at the Mathiessen and Hegeler Superfund site is 18.5 PPM.
“We think at a minimum, we should be afforded the same level,” he said.
Another point in the plan Bryant criticized was the depth level that IEPA plans to use for cleaning contaminated yards, which is 18-inches deep.
“Your property may not be totally cleaned up,” he said to residents at the meeting. “Institutional barriers could be there for a long time. The burden is on you or the people you sell your home to to deal with it. If there is contamination in your properties, you need to have it taken out regardless of the depth.”
The final point Bryant highlighted was how IEPA plans to get rid of contaminated soils. According to the plan, IEPA would like to “stockpile” the soils on the former site of the New Jersey Zinc plant in the village. In a report explaining the clean-up plans, it states “the stockpiles would be safely managed until a final remedy for the plant site is determined.”
Bryant said this plan would further contaminate the plant site and make it more costly to clean up that portion of the Superfund site.
“We want the contaminated soil out of town, and we want the most protected health standards we can get,” he said.
The second person to make comments at Wednesday’s meeting was Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Northwestern School of Law. Loeb has worked with DePue in its clean-up fight for nearly five years.
Loeb’s first comment pointed out how IEPA’s plan was intended to speed up the clean-up process and short circuited in-depth testing of absorption rates of contaminates in the soils.
“IEPA does not know what levels of these contaminates are truly safe at DePue,” she said, adding the 21 PPM standard level of arsenic is almost twice the background level of arsenic in this area of the state.
Loeb said IEPA’s clean-up standard level for lead is out-of-date, insufficient and is based on a model that was changed by the Centers of Disease Control in 2012. The standard IEPA is using in its clean-up plan is twice the target blood lead levels the CDC recommends for children, she said.
Loeb also touched on the restricted 18-inch depth digging level IEPA would give to residents. She said it makes no sense, and there is no justification as to why IEPA wants to use this depth.
She pointed out DePue residents, who have contaminated soils in their yard, will have to call for help if they want to dig further than 18-inches in the ground.
“Many normal activities, for example just planting a tree will often require digging beyond 18 inches,” she said.
Further, Loeb said the estimated cost for the clean-up plan, which is $13.1 million, is not sound.
“The analysis assumes there will never be a cost of storage for (contaminated) soils. That is unrealistic. At some point the soils will have to be disposed of,” she said, adding the time frame for how long the soils will be stored on the plant site is likely to be lengthy.
The final person to speak at Wednesday’s meeting was 21-year-old Grant Bosnich, a DePue native, who started out his comments saying the fight to clean up DePue has “been a fight of (his) lifetime.”
Bosnich has stayed involved in DePue’s clean-up fight for the last four years and said he has yet to see something that suggests cleanup put on the table in this case.
Bosnich shared a few of his own anecdotes about how people outside of the village view DePue. One being a colleague who thought otherwise about purchasing a home in DePue because of the “bad water.” Another story was about how he had to explain to his girlfriend, a lifelong Chicago resident, the fencing that surrounds the village.
“Much like the pollutants that sit on (the former New Jersey Zinc Plant), we are boxed in, and a lot of times it looks like the EPA would like to take (clean-up) Option 2 and just pile it on us,” he said.
Bosnich said he respects the work the EPA does throughout Illinois, but said it’s insulting to him that it “takes half hazard attempts at clean up because the dollar amounts are smaller.”
“I’m not sure if I’ll ever see a clean DePue, and it’s certain that after my 21 years that I have yet to see one … While this plan is a step in the right direction, I fear we are headed down the wrong road,” he said.
Check out Tuesday’s edition of the Bureau County Republican to read more on Loeb’s comments to the IEPA and an in-depth look into the proposed clean-up plan the agency would like to use in DePue.
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