(Reprinted from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste Management
Programs. Hazardous Waste Disposal Damage Reports, EPA/530/SW-151, June, 1975.)
HAZARDOUS WASTE DISPOSAL
March 7, 1975
Industrial Waste Disposal on Farmland in Illinois
1. Personal Damage - None
2. Environmental Damage - Contamination of the soil, surface and ground-waters with toxic materials; destruction of wildlife, stream-dwelling organisms, and local vegetation
3. Economic Damage - In excess of $250,000 has been spent to date by one property owner for clean-up and monitoring operations; at least three cattle were killed by cyanide poisoning.
4. Cause of Problem - Dumping and burying of hazardous industrial wastes on land.
5. Type and Quantity of Hazardous Waste - At least 1,511 containers (mostly 55-gal. and 30-gal. drums) of industrial wastes containing cyanides, heavy metals, and miscellaneous other materials
6. Sources of Waste - Mostly metal finishing operations.
7. Date of Incident - Three dead cattle discovered on May 20, 1974; however, the dumping had been going on for an unknown number of years until about 1972.
8. Location - EPA Region V, Illinois, near Byron, on the Johnson Property and the former Dirks Farm, which was purchased by the Commonwealth Edison Company in 1973.
9. Status - The dumping and burying ceased around 1972, but the disposal site has sustained long-range environmental damage, which is particularly evident during periods of heavy rainfall. An unknown quantity of deteriorating drums of chemical wastes are estimated to be still buried at the Johnson Property.
10. Remedial Action Taken - Commonwealth Edison's contractor, the Conservation Chemical Company, removed a total of 1,511 containers from the former Dirks Farm for controlled disposal. Of this quantity, 576 fifty-five gal. drums and 425 thirty gal. drums contained spent cyanides, which were incinerated. Earthen dams and trenches were constructed to confine the toxic runoff, which was treated with calcium hypocklorite to destroy the cyanide. A surface and ground-water monitoring program was initiated. No known remedial action has been taken at the adjacent Johnson Property.
11. Legal Action Taken - In December 1974, the State Attorney General Office, at the request of the Illinois EPA, filed a complaint against Byron Salvage Company and its listed owners, Mr. and Mrs. W.E. Johnson. The complaint alleges that the company allowed contaminants to be placed on land so as to create a. water pollution hazard; polluted Woodland Creek with discharges of cyanide, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, silver and zinc; conducted a refuse disposal operation without a permit; contaminated underground water with phenol, cyanide and cadmium; and did not have a state wastewater discharge permit.
12. Remarks - In May 1974, three dead cattle were discovered on Commonwealth Edison Company's recently acquired property (formerly known as the Dirks Farm), and.pathological examination established that the cattle had died of cyanide poisoning. Further investigation revealed that the approximately 5-acre area, which is part of a large property set aside or a nuclear power plant, had been for several years a repository of large quantities of toxic industrial wastes.
According to information furnished by the Illinois EPA, Mr. Johnson, owner of the Byron Salvage Company, initially hauled industrial wastes to his own property for dumping and burial. Later, Mr. Johnson allegedly negotiated with Mr. Dirks, owner of the neighboring farm property, for permission to dump more industrial wastes there. In 1974, when Commonwealth Edison Company learned of the potential problems associated with its acquired property, it hired the consulting firm of Dames and Moore to study the nature and magnitude of the environmental damage and to recommend a proper clean-up procedure. Dames and Moore prepared a comprehensive study which documents the substantial damage to wildlife (birds, downstream aquatic community, stream bottom-dwelling organisms, frogs, etc.) and local vegetation (trees, shrubs, etc.). Also, the study points out the severity of the contamination of nearby soils, vegetation, and surface- and ground-waters by toxic materials. The following tabulation will serve to illustrate the contamination of the surface-water runoff which ultimately enters the Rock River, situated 1 1/2 miles east of the site:
U.S. Public Health
Maximum Concentration Service Drinking
Contaminant Detected in Runoff
(parts per billion) (parts per billion)
Arsenic 60 50
Cadmium 340 10
Chromium 17,200 50 (W.H.O. standard)
Cyanide 365,000 200
Phenols 8 1 (recommended)
Ongoing surface and ground-water monitoring efforts by Commonwealth Edison testify to the long-range nature of the problem posed by toxic pollutants that had drained into the soil. Also, it is too early to predict what time period will be required before farm crops can be safely harvested on the affected property. As far as the Johnson property is concerned, an unknown quantity of chemical wastes is estimated to be buried there, awaiting the outcome of current legal proceedings.
There are two recent significant developments surrounding this case study:
- In February 1975, Mr. Johnson brought to the attention of local public health officials several additional sites within one mile of his property where other parties allegedly dumped liquid industrial wastes on land. These sites are currently being investigated.
- As of March 1975, owners of at least forty-six private wells within a three-mile radius of the Johnson property have been warned by the Illinois Department of public Health that their drinking water is unsafe due to unacceptable levels of lead and mercury. One of the wells was found to have an unsafe concentration of cadmium and many contained cyanide; however, the cyanide concentrations were within U.S. public Health Service drinking water standards. Investigations by state authorities are in progress to determine the source(s) of these contaminants.
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