Thursday, August 26, 2010
Algonquin Contamination Not "Slight"
Earlier tests have shown that soil and groundwater in the vicinity of the Toastmaster plant are contaminated with industrial chemicals. The dirt is scheduled to be dug up and trucked off to make way for Algonquin's Route 31 Western Bypass and nobody uses the groundwater. In late December last year, however, IEPA conducted tests to find out if vapors from the contaminated water were a hazard seeping into neighborhood basements .
The report was expected in February but when FEN inquired in early May spokeswoman Tammy Marshall said the report had been delayed. She said, however, only two homes had been found with vapor "slightly above" the test level. The full report was released two weeks later, sent to an "information repository" at the Algonquin Library and to the Village of Algonquin.
The full report which FEN examined this week said not two but three samples showed levels of trichloroethylene contamination higher than IEPA wanted to see and the levels were above that level more than a little. Trichloroethylene (TCE) is an industrial solvent and “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by experts. Two samples taken near residential sites were 30 percent and 60 percent above the 1000 microgram per cubic meter screening level. A third taken in the middle of a parking lot was 80 percent above that point.
Whether that's important is subject to a lot of interpretation. Illinois Department of Public Health environmental toxicologist Ken Runkle said "there is no enforceable standard for TCE" anywhere in the nation. There aren't even many non-enforceable ones, he said. Furthermore, even if there were a standard it would be hard to see if it was exceeded in a home because common household chemicals produce "too many false positives", according to spokesman Mitchell. What investigators in Algonquin did, according to IEPA environmental toxicologist Kathy Marshall, was take the highest non-enforceable standard they could find (New York's) and adjust it backwards to account for the barrier of a basement slab and then the barrier of the soil between the slab and the contaminated water.
The inside standard was 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air so the outside soil standard worked out to be 1000 micrograms. "We took the most conservative value and we used a very conservative (gas permeation) model," said Marshall.
Two other samples unmentioned in the summary sent to residents showed elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene, another solvent thought to be "probably carcinogenic" according to experts. Investigators set no screening level for that chemical but most of the samples found levels from about 50 to around 100 micrograms. The two high samples showed 1,600 and 1,800 microgram concentrations, though.
Investigators said in the report the soil vapor samples they found didn't match the plume of contaminated water the way they expected, some showing high levels beyond where they think the water is. The report speculated that might be because there's another contamination source no one knows about somewhere to the northeast. Algonquin Village Manager Bill Ganek said IEPA advised the village to wait and see. "Once you clean up the source, the contamination goes away," said Ganek. If it doesn't then it would be time to look for another source. "We'll be watching it," said Ganek.
IEPA Sites Manager Joe Dombrowski said the agency notified St. John's about that in March and offered the use of a machine that can help locate a tank if one is still there. FEN attempts over four days to speak with either the school's principal or St. John's pastor were unsuccessful.
In the pics: (above) Investigators said the blob of TCE vapor to the northeast of the main one wasn't expected to be there. (below) The highest levels of toluene vapor center just south of St. John's School.