Tests for Ameren site indicate signs of contamination

By Paul Biasco

Representatives from Ameren Illinois Utilities on Monday evening presented their findings concerning the contamination of soil and groundwater beneath the surface of the land surrounding the former site of a manufactured gas plant at 308 N. Fifth St. in Champaign.

A panel from Ameren, the energy provider which now owns the land, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency presented their findings from a spring 2008 study on the land and surrounding community.

According to the results of the study, there are still traces of toxic chemicals in the ground of the fenced-in area where the plant, which was built in the 1860s, once stood, as well as trace materials in soil and groundwater within 150 feet of the site.

Ameren officials said the utility would submit a remedial plan for the site by November, and begin clean-up early in 2009.

The study consisted of boring nine holes deep into the site to test the soil and groundwater, 45 off-site borings in the area around the plant’s barbed-wire fence and 13 additional monitoring wells, each of which reached about 32 feet deep.

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Most of the contamination that has spread outside the site’s boundaries is located at depths greater than 10 feet. There are, however, contaminated areas between three and 10 feet underground that encroach upon the Illinois EPA guidelines.

In the study, one sample between three and 10 feet deep tested positive for arsenic and one for lead. Eight of the 24 off-site samples tested positive for traces of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons , which are a result of the residues from the gas manufacturing in the past.

“It is how you are exposed to something and how much you are exposed to it,” said Lisa Bradley, senior toxicologist for Ameren, making a point that everything, even too much clean water, can be lethal.

Bradley said, however, that EPA guidelines for what is considered toxic are very “conservative,” and that the relatively low levels of toxins in the area are not necessarily harmful.

Monday’s presentation faced strong criticisms from the community, some of whose members thought that Ameren and the Illinois EPA were using very technical terms to skirt the situation.

“It was PowerPoint-less,” said Champaign resident Jim Bean.

“If there was one person in this room who could understand the terms, I would be shocked.”