About the Ameren IP site at 5th & Hill Streets
The 3.5 acre lot at 5th Street and Hill Street in Champaign is the site of a former manufactured gas plant (FMGP) that operated from 1887 until 1953. Gas was manufactured from coal, through a process that involved heating coal and reacting it with steam. The gas was then processed to remove coal tar and other chemical compounds before it was piped to homes and businesses. The coal tar and other production wastes were left on the site until the closing of the plant.
By-products of the manufactured gas plant are toxic
When gas was produced at the plant, coal tar and other production wastes were left on the site. Coal tar contains volatile compounds referred to as BTEX – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene – which is often found in petroleum products. BTEX is a lightweight chemical compound that moves easily through soils and spreads to surrounding areas. Coal tar also contains chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are likewise known to be carcinogenic.
Toxic chemicals have been found at the 5th & Hill site and neighborhood
Previous testing by Illinois Power and Ameren has shown that benzene and other compounds have contaminated soil and shallow groundwater in the Ameren property and also into the neighborhood beyond the fenced-in Ameren property.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IL EPA) and Ameren IP do not dispute the fact that the site and some of the surrounding neighborhood are contaminated with these toxins. In fact, because of this known contamination, Ameren IP has registered this site, and 24 other sites like it, with the IL EPA under the IL EPA’s Site Remediation Program (SRP).
Is this site and neighborhood going to be cleaned up?
Yes. Under the IL EPA Site Remediation Program, Ameren IP has voluntarily agreed to clean up this site, including the contamination that has spread into the residential neighborhood. Before the clean up can begin, however, there has to be an “investigation” to figure out how far the contamination has spread. In order to investigate the contamination, Ameren IP must put in test wells to test soil samples and groundwater for the toxins. Using data from the investigation, Ameren IP can then “map out” the extent of the contamination. The IL EPA has to review and approve all of Ameren IP’s plans at every step of the way. The IL EPA is in charge of making sure that the proper tests are conducted to find the contamination, and that the remediation (or “clean up”) plans are appropriate for the type and extent of contamination that is found. It is expected that in June of 2008, Ameren IP will provide information about their investigation and the findings of toxic contamination. Clean up is currently expected to take place in 2009, and will be a major undertaking, probably involving a large tent-like structure to cover the areas where the ground is being excavated.
There are two levels of clean up that can take place: a) industrial, or b) residential. The standards for the two are different, with residential being the more extensive and expensive. The level of clean up will depend on how the property is being used or will be used in the future – whether the property will be used for residential purposes or not. The clean up process is very complicated and potentially dangerous. It is very important to ensure that the clean up is done in a way that protects residents and the community from exposure to toxic vapors, gases, dust, and any other exposure to toxins.
Do residents of the neighborhood and community members need to be concerned?
Yes. The main concern among residents is about the health effects of long-term exposure to these toxins. Also, it is possible that, depending on the extent of the contamination, neighborhood residents will have to be temporarily or permanently relocated as a result of the clean up process. Many residents are also concerned because they were never informed about the toxic contamination of the site or their neighborhood, even though documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests show that Illinois Power, Ameren IP, and the IL EPA have known about this contamination for a long time.
The community needs to be concerned and involved as well, because the contamination of the environment and the clean up process could possibly affect community residents who do not live in the neighborhood. Also, after the Ameren IP property is cleaned up, it will probably be sold. Residents should have a voice in any economic development plans for their neighborhood.
In short, this is a complicated problem with a complicated solution. Residents and community members have a right to know, and can play an important part in making sure that residents’ and the community’s rights are protected.
What is the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign?
Local organizations and residents have joined together to work on this effort and have created the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign. The Campaign is organized by Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) and C-U Political Action Project, in collaboration with neighborhood residents.
The 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign is dedicated to protecting the health of the neighborhood and the rights of the community in relation to the toxic site owned by Ameren, located at 5th and Hill Streets in Champaign.
The goals of the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign are:
• To learn the extent and type of toxicity resulting from the Ameren former Manufactured Gas Plant (FMGP), including the contamination in residential areas;
• To assess the health effects on residents and former residents of any exposure to toxins associated with the Ameren site;
• To ensure the rights and protect the health of any resident or former resident affected by exposure to toxins associated with the Ameren site;
• To assess and have appropriate input into the Site Remediation Plan for the 5th & Hill neighborhood, including remediation for residences and neighborhood areas;
• To ensure neighborhood and community input into future development plans for the site and neighborhood at 5th & Hill.
How can I get involved in the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign?
For more information, or to get involved, please contact: Claudia Lennhoff of Champaign County Health Care Consumers at (217) 352-6533 or cchcc@HealthCareconsumers.org.