Champaign County hosts summit on Mahomet Aquifer

By Abrar Al-Heeti

The Mahomet Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to over 750,000 people in over 14 counties in Central Illinois, has been the subject of much discussion due to Area Disposal Company’s permit request to dump toxic Polychlorinated Biphenyls, or PCBs, in the Clinton Landfill, which sits just above the aquifer.

PCBs are one of the most dangerous man-made chemical compounds, which has residents fearing that if the permit is passed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, their main water supply could become contaminated and rendered unsafe for consumption.

Area Disposal Company, also known as Peoria Disposal Company, already has a permit to deposit MGP, or Manufactured Gas Plant waste, at the Clinton Landfill. But those who oppose this policy are trying to not only prevent PCBs from being added to the landfill, but are also rallying to stop all toxic waste chemicals from being deposited.

The Champaign County Mahomet Aquifer Summit was held on Saturday morning at the Champaign Public Library to address the issue and inform the public of the consequences that would follow if the pending permit is passed.

“This is a case where local governments, cities and counties are working well with citizens who all have the same goal in mind, which is to protect our source of water for future generations,” said retired City Manager Steve Carter.

Elected officials and residents of Central Illinois attended the summit to share information about the mission of protecting the aquifer and to share their feelings of frustration and concern over potential contamination.

Research and studies are currently being done at the University to look into the effects of the dumping of PCBs in the Clinton Landfill.

“If we’re going to have any credibility with the state or the federal government in particular, it had to be based on science and not just because we don’t like it,” Carter said.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, co-chairs the Mahomet Aquifer Working Group along with State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign. The group created a science-based subcommittee that includes scientists from the University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute. These scientists are working to find an alternate way to deal with the PCB issue by looking for the cheapest and most efficient way to process it in an environmentally sustainable way.

“The goal was to let science drive us, not politics or personalities,” Rose said.

Currently, citizens are taking action by petitioning the U.S. EPA to deny Area Disposal Company’s application for a permit to dump PCBs in the landfill and Gov. Pat Quinn to call for an end to the dumping of MGP waste at the landfill and repeal its permit for a chemical waste unit.

A boycott has also been called on Area Disposal.

Much frustration comes from the degree to which Clinton Landfill’s operations have been hidden from the public and thus deemed unlawful. In 2002, the landfill held a public hearing where they stated they would not take any waste containing PCBs and that special waste would not contain any hazardous materials. Without a separate public hearing, the agreement was amended to include a chemical waste unit.

Should the Mahomet Aquifer become unstable due to contamination, an analysis by the Illinois State Water Survey showed that none of the surface water reservoirs in the region, including Lake Vermillion, Lake Decatur, Lake Springfield, Evergreen Lake and Lake Bloomington, have adequate capacity to serve additional communities. It is for this reason that advocates are emphasizing the preservation of the aquifer.

“The first question common sense asks is: why on earth would you have chosen that site to begin with?” said Ann Burger, a Champaign County resident. “It is long past time to ask that question, and if they can’t answer it, then close the chemical waste facility.”

In response to concerns about water contamination, Area Disposal has claimed that their engineers have already prevented any future leaks with a landfill design consisting of several feet of packed clay, three plastic sheets and an assortment of sump pumps, stating this will keep the containment system leak-proof for 1,000 years.

But the effectiveness of such measures is being questioned by many.

“We simply cannot prepare in advance for the death of water,” Burger said. “We cannot reverse it — we can only prevent it.”

Abrar can be reached at [email protected]