Work begins to prevent future pollution in Boneyard Creek


A plastic bag lies in Boneyard Creek on Apr. 13, 2015

By Kyle Summerville

While walking through the Engineering Quad nearly one year ago, Robert Kanter, professor in the School of Earth, Society and Environment, noticed pollution in Boneyard Creek. In April, Kanter noticed the same type of pollution entering the creek through a storm drain. 

The persistent pollution in Boneyard Creek led Kanter to post pictures of the creek, and of the animals affected, on Facebook.

Kanter said he was hoping to bring awareness of the pollution and solicit advice on how to stop it.

He emailed the University’s Facilities and Services department, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the city of Champaign, which he had done without success in the past.

This time, however, Kanter said all three offices responded quickly and made efforts to get to the bottom of the issue.

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“We were first notified about it from our environmental compliance department,” said Steve Breitwieser, media communications specialist for Facilities and Services. “There’s been a strong line of communication throughout the whole process.”

Breitwieser said the University worked closely with the city of Champaign to determine the source of the pollution. The city provided television cameras, which showed dye entering the storm drainage system through a broken pipe joint. 

The pollution in the creek came from paint that was washed down a sink in a University building. Breitwieser said the sanitary line connected to the sink was compromised, allowing the paint to enter the creek.

“It’s not that the paint was bad, but it’s that somebody else might dump something in there that might be,” Kanter said. 

To combat the issue, the University has prohibited use of the sink until the pipe is fixed.

“We’ve provided support to help them find the source of the problem,” said Alex Nagy, civil engineer in the city of Champaign Public Works Department. “But it’s coming from a U. of I. building, so this is not under our jurisdiction.”

Facilities and Services has already begun repairs to the sanitary line, and Breitwieser said the work is expected to continue into next week.

“This is an example of things working exactly as you would want them to,” Kanter said. “A person notices something wrong, contacts an agency with the power to do something about it, and the agency does something about it.”

The 10th annual Boneyard Creek Community Day will be held on April 18 at Scott Park in Champaign. Breitwieser said the event is held to remove trash, pollution and to generally protect the creek through community action. 

“Public awareness is important,” Breitwieser said. “The more people are aware, the better we can protect places like Boneyard Creek.” 

Although he is happy with the results of his actions, Kanter said he realized the issue did not need as much attention as it received on social media.

“I was really delighted to see how many people cared when I mentioned it. On the other hand, that was unnecessary because the people I was contacting also care about the creek,” Kanter said. “I was mistaken in thinking they didn’t.”

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