IEPA to investigate groundwater, Amerock

This map describes where the dump site of barrels, heavy metals and other junk were dumped around the Northwest Community Center as well as the toxic pond where 55-gallon drums of toxic sludge were dumped and buried. The underground gas tanks are located on Greenview Avenue at a private residence and Day Avenue at the site of a former grocery store. (Map courtesy of Google Maps, Jeff Helberg)

TRRT discovers five drainage lines emptying into Kent Creek, seemingly from Amerock property

By Richard S. Gubbe
Contributing Writer

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) has launched two investigations, one into groundwater pollution in the area west of Central Avenue and north of Auburn Street in Rockford, and the other into allegations of environmental pollution by the Amerock Corporation.

The announcement of the investigation comes as a result of a series of articles by The Rock River Times (TRRT). Most recently, our investigation revealed five drainage leads from Amerock to Kent Creek.

The IEPA investigations, parallel in nature, will focus on private well water contamination in the residential area west of Amerock, as well as possible abuses by Amerock of chemical dumping into Kent Creek and the land north and south of the creek that includes the Northwest Community Center, Memorial Park and the Mel Anderson bike path.

The IEPA has assigned investigators Mark Wagner and Carol Fuller to examine claims made by residents of nonpotable water from their private wells as well as inspecting claims made by current and former residents of the neighborhood and by former Amerock employees of violations of chemical dumping into the adjoining property and Kent Creek.

This 1970 aerial photograph shows the location of the five sewer lines, numbered 1-5, that empty into Kent Creek. Note the roads and dumping area in the upper left corner crossing Kent Creek. Compare aerial photograph to map at top of page.

A team of four former Amerock employees recently found five drainage pipes that lead from the north end of the Amerock complex. Two of the drainage discoveries are old, galvanized metal drain pipes measuring 4 to 5 feet in diameter, and two others are old concrete drainage areas in the ground. A fifth pipe is made of a newer black plastic that also directs into Kent Creek. All five empty into the creek and are 75 to 100 yards from the back of the Amerock building.

Our priority is the direct exposure people have had from the contamination in the wells,” Maggie Carson, spokesman for the IEPA, told TRRT last Thursday, Sept. 22. “But they (IEPA team members) are taking the two investigations in almost a parallel manner, knowing that there will be some overlap. But we really have to concentrate on people with gasoline in their wells.”

Carson, as well as the two IEPA investigators, Wagner and Fuller, told TRRT in an exclusive interview of their plans to look into well contamination and the alleged dump site around the community center.

TRRT has confirmed the IEPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health have started to perform independent well water tests from the tests done in July and August on private wells on Alliance and Soper avenues by the Winnebago County Health Department. The IEPA team said they plan to expand the test area to include other streets nearby.

The following five photos (this is the first of the five) show five different sewer lines that empty into Kent Creek, just north of the Amerock complex. Moving west to east, corresponding to map above on this page, are the five photos. This photo (1 on map above) is of a galvanized pipe 4 to 5 feet in diameter over the creek. (Photo by Richard S. Gubbe)

The IEPA and TRRT have acquired aerial photos of the area that show activity in and around the creek.

Part of our initial plan is to pull as many historic air photos and sit down with people who have knowledge of the area and point out where things occurred,” Wagner said. “I have pretty good coverage from 1964, 1970, 1979, 1988 and 1998. I think we have where they started to fill that area where the original bridge (across Kent Creek) was. IDOT (the Illinois Department of Transportation) used aerial photos to do road planning.”

A source has told TRRT that those drainage pipes now carry rainwater from the Amerock roof but were used to divert chemicals from the Amerock plating department prior to 1974.

These discoveries come 10 days after large quantities of metal buried underneath the athletic fields at Northwest Community Center were discovered as well as around the Mel Anderson bike path around Kent Creek and the area south of Searls Park.

Wagner said the team plans to survey the area with highly-sensitive equipment to look for metal drums or other debris underground.

We do have plans to follow that up with a little more sophisticated-type metal detector we have in house,” Wagner said. “Our first priority is the groundwater, and then survey that area, as we have with other sites that have had buried drums. We have had pretty good luck in areas where there are old gas tanks or buried drums.”

A long, black plastic tube (2 on map above). (Photo by Richard S. Gubbe)

The IEPA team plans to survey reported cases of cancer in the area and compare them to occurrences of cancer in Winnebago County on a national level.

(The Illinois Department of) Public Health is involved in this issue,” Carson said. “The problem with cancers is different kinds of cancers have different causes. We have to see what we can find.”

Fuller has worked on cancer instances on other polluted sites investigated by the IEPA.

Unfortunately, that was the situation with a lot of industrial facilities back then because there weren’t really a lot of laws in place,” Fuller said. “We didn’t know then what we know now about groundwater contamination. We’re looking at the cancer tumor registry if it was in line with national numbers.

Practically every site I work on, people automatically assume since there was something next door that had some kind of hazardous chemicals, that their cancer is related to that,” Fuller added. “But that is not always the case. Cancer is so prevalent in our society that the occurrence of cancer is like one in three, and your chance of fatal cancer is like one in five. We look at occurrence versus the national cancer database that

A galvanized steel pipe that stops short of the creek (3 on map above). (Photo by Richard S. Gubbe)

occurs per hundred thousand. They can tell you pretty quickly if the cancers they see in an area are what they expect.”

The IEPA team has used the information gathered by TRRT and plans to interview those who have contributed to the last three TRRT stories about groundwater contamination and the alleged dumping of chemicals by Amerock from 1956 to 1974, and possibly beyond 1974 from drains that come off the roof. Both the IEPA and Northwest Community Center plan to meet this week to discuss the matter.

I’ve been here 16, 17 years, and I’m not aware of toxic materials being dumped on our property or anything under our property,” Northwest Community Center (NWCC) Executive Director Jim Peterson said. “I got one call from the EPA, and they said they wanted to meet with us. We’ll see how that works out.”

Carson said the team would first ask permission from Amerock and the Northwest Community Center to conduct tests on their property.

A large cement structure (4 on map above). (Photo by Richard S. Gubbe)

We would get an access agreement,” she said Monday, Sept. 26, of the IEPA performing tests on private property. “It’s typically what we would do first. If it’s a probable cause situation, we would go if there is a reason. Otherwise, we would extend the courtesy of asking first.”

The Rock River Times also has learned Amerock still allegedly owns a small portion of land just west of Amerock and east of the NWCC basketball courts.

Peterson said he is aware of the small strip of land and that the NWCC had spoken with Amerock when the company was still operating about a “land swap.” Nothing came of the conversations, he said.

We’re not using any of Amerock’s property,” Peterson said. “We share a property line with Amerock, and we also share a property line with the (Rockford) Park District for Kent Creek and Mel Anderson bike path. We own all of our property outright, and have no mortgage on it, either.”

Wagner said of the small strip of land: “We interviewed the property management group that has the old Amerock facility, and they said at closing they found out that they still have the title.

A round cement pipe buried in the brush (5 on map above). (Photo by Richard S. Gubbe)

There’s a chunk outside of their fence. They (current owner Denovo Corp.) weren’t aware of it until closing.”

Wagner said the team will use a GPS to mark specific locations of drainage pipes found by TRRT with the assistance of former Amerock employees. The IEPA plans to look into further allegations of hazardous materials still remaining on the site and others that were buried underneath the factory. That information was supplied to TRRT in a recent exclusive interview of a former employee.

That would be a benefit to know,” Fuller said.

TRRT plans to cooperate with the IEPA team, according to journalistic standards, and will reveal information gathered about toxic waste dumping and information about underground gasoline storage tanks it has gathered. Sources will only be revealed with their consent.

We have two of our best people on this, and we very much appreciate your help on this,” Carson said.

Residents reported smelling odors resembling gasoline from their private wells last July and August, prompting TRRT to investigate the matter. Wells in that area are dug 25 to 50 feet under the surface. Tests conducted by the county health department showed a high concentration of Volatile Organic Chemicals, such as benzene, xylene and toluene, in the water. Further IEPA tests will determine if other heavy metals, such as those used in the hardware plating process at Amerock, will be found in the groundwater used by private wells to homes in the area west of Amerock.

We have people who have contaminated drinking wells, and our first priority is why and where it came from,” Carson said when she first disclosed the investigation to TRRT.

From the Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2011, issue

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