Yesterday (6/9/11), we at Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) were alerted that Ameren was excavating toxic soil at its Fifth and Hill street toxic site in open air.
We received a call from the Executive Director at the Center for Women in Transition saying that excavation was taking place on Ameren’s property, along the fence line that borders the alley behind the Center for Women in Transition, and that toxic detectors had gone off a couple of times.
CCHCC Community Organizer, Grant Antoline, went to the site and witnessed the excavation and was told that the excavation was taking place in the open air — rather than under the big vapor tent — because the fence made it impossible to move the tent over the area being excavated.
In other words, Ameren did not go to the trouble of moving the fence so that the tent could be moved over the excavation site. The tent is there to protect the surrounding neighborhood from toxic vapors and dust that are released during the excavation of toxic soil.
To be clear — the soil is not being excavated for fun, or “just in case” — it is being excavated precisely because it has been found (by Ameren’s own environmental tests) to be highly contaminated with toxic chemicals.
In fact, a supervisor of the excavation confirmed what CCHCC had been told, and this supervisor told Grant that earlier in the day, the PID’s (detectors that react to toxic volatile organic compounds) had gone off a couple of times, indicating that toxic chemicals were indeed being released into the air. This is the technological equivalent of the “canary in the mine,” when the canary falls over dead — it tells you there is a problem and that you should get out (or in this case, stop the excavation). Later, in talking to the media, the personnel involved in the excavation denied that the PID’s had ever gone off.
This excavation activity should have been taking place under the protection of the vapor tent. The only reason it wasn’t, was because the fence was in the way. Ameren should have moved the fence, and moved the tent, and conducted the excavation under the tent.
But instead, Ameren chose to proceed in a way that could potentially endanger the health of the neighbors nearby, including the children living just a few feet away at the Center for Women in Transition.
Of course, as always, Ameren and the IL EPA claim that there was no cause for concern.
We at CCHCC and the 5th& Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign consider Ameren’s actions, and the IL EPA’s lack of oversight, to be irresponsible and dangerous, and a dereliction of the duty to protect the health of the residents.
You can see the media coverage from yesterday’s impromptu press conference at the links below.