Public safety should override profit for PCB waste disposal

Refugees across central lllinois have been up in arms these past several months over Clinton Landfill in DeWitt County, where Area Disposal Services Inc. wants to put up to 2.5 million cubic yards of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminated waste into the landfill. The landfill, of course, is situated directly above the Mahomet Aquifer, a giant reservoir of groundwater that provides agricultural water and drinking water for over 750,000 people on campus and throughout central Illinois.

PCBs are certainly something you would rather encounter in your chemistry textbook rather than in your drinking water. Originally used as coolant fluids, the United States Congress banned PCB production due to health concerns in 1979, yet there is still millions of cubic yards of highly toxic waste that need to be disposed of properly.

PCBs do not easily breakdown in nature, so these toxic chemicals stick around for a long time. They affect the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems, and they are also widely believed to be carcinogenic to humans. Also, if PCB-contaminated water was to be used for agriculture, the food grown would accumulate PCBs, contaminating the food supply.  

In order to contain the waste to the landfill, Area Disposal Services Inc. is proposing a barrier of 4 plastic layers, in addition to the clay that is already present.  

Despite these proposed precautions, residents, activists and local municipalities believe that it is inevitable that a leak will occur with potentially devastating consequences.

In DeWitt County, most residents have voiced disapproval of the plan to put the PCB waste in the Clinton Landfill; however, DeWitt County is set to gain an additional $50,000 a year in fees if it allows the disposal of the PCB waste. The Clinton City Council decided 3-2 to remain neutral. Naturally, the DeWitt County Board has thus far remained quiet.  

Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing the site in order to determine if the facility should be granted a permit to dispose of the waste there. In the meantime, several municipalities, including the city of Champaign and Champaign County, are banding together to oppose the permit. Officials opposing the plan are also seeking to get a “sole source” status granted to the Mahomet Aquifer, which designates that the aquifer is basically the only source of water in the area. Activists predict the “sole source” status will be granted, which some hope will make it more difficult to get the PCB waste disposal permit approved.

The EPA, Clinton Landfill and Area Waste Disposal Inc. need to recognize that the disposal of toxic, PCB-laden waste at this location is clearly not a wise decision. While disposing of the waste in other parts of Illinois poses its own set of problems, many of these alternative sites do not threaten water supplies to the extent that Clinton Landfill will. 

Disposing of PCB-laden waste above the Mahomet Aquifer could potentially turn into a dire situation for the future of central Illinois residents and threaten both the water and food supplies of the area. Municipalities that are chasing the money right now (DeWitt County Board, I’m looking at you), would be looking at an extremely difficult and expensive clean up if it were to occur. The EPA needs to stop acting gutless on this matter and rule in favor of public safety. Hundreds of thousands of residents depend on the Mahomet Aquifer for their drinking water. 

Let’s keep it clean and safe.