Sun, 11/07/2010 – 1:00pm| Christine Des Garennes News Gazette CLINTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may be close to announcing a public comment period on a Clinton landfill’s request to accept polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs. Clinton Landfill, owned by Area Disposal of Peoria, in 2007 applied with the EPA to receive special permission to store the hazardous waste in a new disposal cell it proposed for the Clinton landfill, about 2 miles south of Clinton on Illinois 51. In January of this year the Illinois EPA gave its OK to the company to expand the landfill. A U.S. EPA permit would allow the landfill to accept and store PCBs, man-made chemicals that are known carcinogens. “We’ve gone through the process of the investigation. We are ready to, quite frankly, announce when we’ll have the public meeting and the comment period,” said Rafael Gonzalez, public affairs coordinator for the EPA’s land and chemical division in Region 5, which includes Illinois. “This has been going on for at least three years. It’s not a slam dunk kind of thing,” he said. The U.S. EPA would issue a draft permit after the public meeting and comment period which could be 30, 60, or 90 days. Residents have opposed the landfill expansion over concerns that the PCBs may contaminate the Mahomet Aquifer, the underground source of water that stretches from Cass County to Vermilion County. The aquifer supplies drinking water to cities such as Champaign, Monticello, Clinton, Paxton and many more. A citizens group called We’re Against Toxic Chemicals, or WATCH Clinton Landfill spoke out against the landfill’s proposal, and DeWitt County residents, in advisory referendums from 2007 and 2008, overwhelmingly voted against it. “I’m not an environmentalist. I’ve got a big car, I ride a motorcycle,” said George Wissmiller, a retired City of Champaign police officer who lives near Clinton. “But this is a public safety issue. We’re talking about hundreds of tons of PCB-laden soil and dumping it on top of the Mahomet Aquifer.” The protections the company has promised, about 150 feet of clay soil between the landfill and the aquifer along with geomembrane liners, are not enough, he said. Members of WATCH Clinton Landfill brought the issue to the attention of the Mahomet Valley Water Authority, a three-person entity authorized by the Illinois Water Authorities Act that regulates the use of water in Piatt and DeWitt County. At 1 p.m. Tuesday the board will meet in the Monticello Professional Building, 121 N. State St., to discuss a report by environmental consulting firm KPRG & Associates in Westmont. The authority hired the firm to study the Clinton proposal. KPRG principal David Pyles declined to discuss the report with The News-Gazette. The water authority’s attorney, Hugh Finson of Monticello, also declined comment through his secretary. “I’m worried about that stuff down the road going into the aquifer,” said the authority’s chair, Robert Lieb of Monticello. While its consultants were conducting their research for the report, the authority has been battling the landfill company in Piatt County Circuit Court. Clinton Landfill has requested a declaratory judgement to essentially prevent the water authority from participating or intervening in the permitting application process. “We have a difference of opinion,” said Chris Coulter, vice president of Area Disposal, which owns the landfill. “Their role is to regulate the use of water. It’s not to protect water quality. That’s our reading under the powers of the (Illinois Water Authorities Act). They think their powers are broader, that they can participate and intervene with this permitting process,” Coulter said. Coulter called the company’s plans to store PCBs a “business opportunity” that came about in response to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which includes federal funding for cleaning polluted tributaries to the Great Lakes, such as the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. “Right now it’s in our waterways,” he said about PCBs that can be found in the sediment of river bottoms. “It’s better to find a home and get this waste into an area that’s confined, monitored and maintained,” he said. PCBs are man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons, according to the EPA. PCBs have been banned since 1979, but because they don’t readily break down they can remain in the environment for long periods of time. They were used in a variety of different industrial and commercial applications, such as the manufacturing of paint, plastics, rubber products, dyes and more. They can be thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black waxy solids. PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer and to have adverse health effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous system and endocrine systems. PCBs do not dissolve and move through groundwater like other pollutants such as gasoline, said George Roadcap, a scientist with the Illinois State Water Survey at the UI. He is also a technical adviser to the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium, a group that supports research about the aquifer. Companies removing the contaminated sediment need a place to take it, Coulter said, and “we are in the environmental services business.” The Clinton landfill “is a good site to accomplish that. That’s why we’ve been pursuing this,” Coulter said. The site has about 150 feet of clay between the bottom of the landfill gate to the top of the aquifer, he said. “The soil itself is pretty close to being impermeable. We are blessed with native clays that will not allow PCBs to matriculate through them,” he said. If approved to accept the PCBs, the landfill would pay DeWitt County what’s called a host fee, a certain amount of money per ton, to allow the landfill to receive this kind of waste, according to Coulter. Currently the county receives $3 a ton, plus an annual payment of $50,000. Host fees are a way to pay the county for accepting waste from elsewhere, Coulter said, adding that the landfill accepts a lot of garbage from Champaign County. Since the company filed for the permit, EPA scientists have been reviewing the application, requesting additional information, such as how nearby municipal water wells might be affected by a PCB disposal cell, from the applicant and deliberating the proposal. “As it stands now the landfill could be built, but they can’t put PCBs in it,” Roadcap said. A public comment period will eventually be announced and a public meeting will be held. At the end of that time the EPA will review the additional input it received before a final decision is announced, according to Gonzalez. “Hopefully this process come to a conclusion soon,” Coulter said. In the meantime Wissmiller plans to ratchet up the group’s communications with the public, including approaching local municipalities and county boards. “The Mahomet Aquifer provides water for about 750,000 people, and they want to dump this stuff right on top of it,” Wissmiller said. “Anyone who gets their water from the Mahomet Aquifer is affected by this,” he said.