By Richard S. Gubbe
Sources of the benzene that contributed to the contaminated well water on Rockford’s west side have been identified by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).
As the IEPA concludes its role in the first of their two investigations into pollution in and around the site of the Amerock manufacturing facility, the agency’s focus has turned to alleged pollution stemming from the factory.
The IEPA is a report away from wrapping up its part in locating leaking underground gasoline storage tanks that include both the Citgo and Mobil gas stations west of Johnston Avenue on Auburn Street that the IEPA says were sources of the leaking of benzene and other toxins that make up gasoline.
“What they have found is both the Citgo and the Mobil are likely contributors,” IEPA Spokesman Maggie Carson told The Rock River Times (TRRT).
The investigative team, led by Mark Bradley of the IEPA, began testing well water in the area last October. Residents had began complaining about foul water back in July.
Carson added that the two gas stations, with older underground tanks on the premises, may not be the only leaking tanks at fault.
“They know there may be other contributors,” Carson said.
An investigation by TRRT uncovered numerous underground gasoline storage tanks last September that were not on the state’s list of known underground storage tanks in that area.
Carson added that the two cited are located on land where “there were two older, closed gas stations.”
The investigation will be handed off to the federal government for its inclusion in the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Program.
“They collected all their information and, since these are leaking underground storage tanks, they are going to provide it to the Leaking Underground Storage Program,” Carson said. “I assume they will meet with the owners/operators of these facilities soon. We will offer to meet with them.”
The gas station owners and the federal government will then work together for the cleaning up of any leaking tanks.
The U.S. Congress created the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund in 1986 to address releases from federally-regulated underground storage tanks (USTs) by amending the Solid Waste Disposal Act. In 2005, the Energy Policy Act expanded its uses for the fund to include leak prevention. The LUST Trust Fund provides money to oversee cleanups by responsible parties, enforce cleanups by recalcitrant parties, pay for cleanups at sites where the owner or operator is unknown, unwilling or unable to respond, to help with cleanups that require emergency action, and to conduct inspections.
Carson said of the potential removal of the tanks at the gas stations, “Partial (federal) reimbursement for certain work could occur if all the laws leading up to it were followed and if it meets their criteria.”
What the IEPA knows for certain is the plume of gasoline that made its way into the well water nearby came from the direction of the two stations, meaning the flow of water underground travels from west to east.
“It’s clear that this plume is coming from that general direction and that it is likely more than one source,” Carson said. “These two facilities we’re confident are the primary contributors. There could also be somebody that ran a small shop or lawn repair — there could be any number of smaller contributors. That happens in an older area before these laws were in place. That’s what they did with their solvents or gasoline.”
The Trust Fund is financed by a 0.1-cent tax on each gallon of motor fuel sold nationwide. The EPA’s UST program receives approximately $100 million annually to prevent, detect and clean up releases from federally-regulated USTs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided a one-time allocation of $200 million to assess and clean up UST leaks. The USEPA provides almost 90 percent of its LUST money directly to states, territories and tribes to implement UST programs.
For the Rockford site, this means the leaking tanks at Citgo, Mobil and any other detected tanks will be cleaned up and paid for by parties deemed responsible or by the federal government. The USEPA and the City of Rockford recently combined to pay for 15 homes in that area to be connected to city water.
As for a timeline for the cleanup, the report comes first.
“It could be several weeks,” Carson said. “They will then hand this off to the UST program.”
The IEPA investigative team’s focus is now on the alleged chemical dumping around Amerock, then possibly the building itself.
“The documentation (well water report) is no longer a priority to the investigation now that the weather is such that the priority is going out doing other investigations across the state,” Carson said. “When the weather gets a little nicer, their priorities switch to field work. They will put together documentation with analysis and the mapping, but they didn’t give a timeline, just said a few weeks.”
The priorities in the second investigation begin with locating any metal drums north of Kent Creek. The IEPA plans to do other tests, including soil samples around the creek where residents and former employees said drainage pipes dumped chemicals into the creek in the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s.
The Rock River Times located five drainage locations and also found large amounts of metal underground after using a metal detector north of the creek last September.
The Illinois EPA must follow the rules set forth by the United States EPA to investigate potential toxic dump sites.
“They have begun a site inspection under the auspices of Superfund,” Carson said. “It means they are using criteria in the Superfund process to make sure it’s done in a complete manner to establish that process in a thorough and complete manner. A checklist or specific process they go through adds a level to the specific process for the investigation.”
The team officially began the investigation last week.
“They did a preliminary screening,” Carson said. “They did some testing. There was no sampling or anything like that. It was a screening.”
Carson said the team already “took a device with them that could identify and map underground anomalies. This would be to determine if there were drums. That’s the basis they are doing the investigation is on the reports of the burying of the drums. The first step is to identify where these drums might be.”
Carson said the device used is typically utilized for locating underground storage tanks that are not mapped. The time it would take the evaluation to be finalized will be two to three weeks, Carson said. If the screenings turn up positive for metal drums, the next step would be digging them up.
“If that were the case, they would probably take a back hoe and do some digging,” Carson said.
The IEPA also plans to take sediment samples around the creek. Only after finding positive samples or drums will the IEPA consider entering the Amerock facility that opened in the mid-1950s.
“The Illinois EPA typically would not go into the building unless there is something in the process that would call for it,” Carson said.
Carson added that could take place “if whatever might be dumped reached the environment — ground water, surface water or soil. If something would be going on inside, it wouldn’t really be our jurisdiction unless we found evidence externally that affected the environment.”
From the April 18-24, 2012, issue