USEPA hooks up water, dumping probe forthcoming

March 14, 2012

By Richard S. Gubbe
Contributing Writer

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has completed its changeover of 15 homes with contaminated wells to city water in the neighborhood north of Auburn Street on Rockford’s west side. One home was given a carbon filter.

The area west of the former Amerock plant was recently annexed by the city. Sixteen homes on Auburn and Parkside streets and on Alliance, Soper and Johnston avenues tested for abnormally high levels of benzene.

All that work has been completed,” said Brad Benning of the USEPA district office in Chicago. “The contractor worked fast.”

The USEPA contracted Stenstrom Companies LTD. of Rockford to connect the homes that had been determined to have benzene-polluted well water. Testing was confirmed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency last fall. The total project cost was expected to be $100,000 to the USEPA. The money can be recouped if an offender is identified.

Tim Holdeman, water superintendent for the City of Rockford, confirmed the job had been completed, with the exception of meter installation, which would be soon. He added the house that was provided a carbon filter was “outside the area of concern.”

Holdeman also said he knew of no claims that were brought for damages from the increase of water pressure. The city has offered to pay for qualifying homes if damage occurred as a result of the increased pressure from the city hookup.

Tests of well water by the IEPA and the Winnebago County Health Department last summer and fall found high levels of volatile organic chemicals. The most prominent was benzene, a component of gasoline, which had levels recorded of 1.30 milligrams per liter when the allowable EPA limit is .005.

The only facet remaining of the first part of a two-pronged investigation into pollution in that area west of Central Avenue is to pin down the source of the benzene that leaked into the groundwater in the area.

The IEPA has stated in the past that they believe the benzene leaked from an underground storage tank and flowed from west to east. The IEPA target search area included all the underground storage tanks that have either been drained and sealed or were never discovered since the IEPA began to monitor underground gasoline storage tanks in the mid-1980s.

One of the gas stations that sits in the reported path of the flow of benzene underground is the Citgo Station at 4315 Auburn St. Benning said the IEPA is looking into whether two storage tanks located on the property are the source. The IEPA, The Rock River Times learned, contacted the Citgo Feb. 8 about inspecting the property.

They wanted to get back to Citgo and do some investigation where this old tank pit was found from back when Citgo built there,” Benning said. “I think they wanted to look at that, and I think there has been some delay with getting their contractor up there. Once they look at Citgo, they should have enough information to make a decision.”

Once that task has been completed, Benning said the investigation will turn to the second phase, the looking into allegations of toxic waste dumping in and around Kent Creek and inside the Amerock plant. The plant is being cleaned up by a restoration company, Denovo Properties of Chicago.

That’s supposed to be happening,” Benning said of the next step of the investigation. “We give grant money to the state to operate their (the IEPA) site assessment program. That is on their list, so they are supposed to start looking at the Amerock facility. I’m hoping that occurs in the near future with all the information that’s out there.”

The IEPA said they planned to take a geoprobe of the area to test soil in and around the creek as well as metal detection of the area. The IEPA said they will look to see if 55-gallon drums were buried north of the creek, as alleged by former and current residents as well as former Amerock employees.

When they get all their data back, it comes back to our agency,” Benning said of the IEPA probe into the area. “A determination is made whether a full investigation is required, or does it qualify, or is there enough information to put it on the national priorities list if it’s that bad?”

As far as the length of time an investigation of this nature takes, Benning said it depends “on whether things can be done right away, like the removal of the drums. Some of it’s quick, some of it’s long-term. It depends on what they find. It’s hard to say until the data comes in.”

From the March 14-20, 2012, issue

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