Peoria Journal Star

 June 2, 2006

Senators press EPA for details on toxics
More information sought on five Superfund sites

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama have given the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until Monday to provide details on five Superfund sites in Illinois, including one in Ottawa, identified by the EPA as places where human exposure to hazardous contaminants is not under control.

Children play on a vacant lot in a residential area of Ottawa, where contaminants are 6 feet below the surface, according to information the EPA provided Illinois' two Democratic senators last month. Contaminants are buried only 3 feet deep near a skateboard park at another location.

"While we are concerned about the population at large, we have a special concern for the children in the communities where possible human exposure sites are located," the senators wrote in a recent letter to the agency.

The information came in response to the senators' request last July for a detailed analysis of the human risk at 11 Superfund sites in Illinois - and 103 nationwide - where the EPA says "human exposure is currently not under control." The senators fired off another letter in May seeking additional details on five sites they deemed most critical - those in Ottawa, Belvedere, Rockford, West Chicago and Lemont.

"After 10 months, we are disappointed that many of our questions remain unanswered," Durbin and Obama wrote in their most recent letter to the agency. "In fact, we are surprised that Assistant Administrator Susan P. Bodine's response yielded less information than we were able to gather from the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site."

EPA officials Thursday downplayed the risk to children at the two Ottawa sites.

Agency reports that list sites where "human exposure is currently not under control" mean that the contaminants haven't yet been removed from the site, said Denise Boone, EPA's remedial project manager.

She said children playing on the vacant lot on the north side of Ottawa on Bellevue Avenue are not at risk from radon gas, because the gas would be dispersed into the open air, presenting less of a risk than radon gas in an enclosed living area or basement where individuals would be exposed to higher concentrations, and for prolonged periods.

The unfenced lot is one of 14 areas contaminated by radioactive materials by the Radium Dial Co. from 1918 to 1936 and Luminous Processes Inc. from 1937 to 1978.

Children who play at the skateboard park near Jefferson and Fulton streets, near the old Luminous Processes plant site, are at little risk because the contaminants are under an old air-conditioning unit, Boone said.

However, the EPA's Web site states that individuals could be at risk from direct contact or ingestion of contaminated soils.

The 11 Illinois Superfund sites also include a site in DePue, previously used by New Jersey Zinc and Mobil Chemical Corp. Former owners Viacom International, Exxon Mobile Oil Corp. and Horsehead Industries are working with the state to clean up the site, according to the EPA Web site.

Durbin said if the EPA fails to respond with adequate detail, he could force a response through legislation or through the appropriations or appointments processes.