Would you send your child to the Cortland school?

Rants and Raves of Mac McIntyre
Rants and Raves of Mac McIntyre

If Tracy Williams children attended Cortland Elementary School would he be content to wait 30 days to find out what caused them to get sick and transported to the hospital? I don’t really know Williams. But if I was in an affected parent’s shoes, I wouldn’t.

I’d be upset and anxious. But I’m a NIMKB (not in my kid’s body). I can’t help it.

For Cortland Elementary School parents and staff to expect in place solutions to the ongoing potential landfill gas threat is unreasonable. It’s completely understandable for District 428 to take time to give due diligence to develop a long term plan to ensure that students and staff are in a safe environment at all times.

But according to a petition drive by Clean Air for Cortland Elementary, which was started by some members of the Cortland PTA, the events that took place both Monday and Tuesday last week has sparked fear among parents that the children have been exposed to toxins for a long time. There are many accounts of children having migraines, being extremely fatigued and feeling nausea for some time now without any explanation.

To recount, a strong foul odor sent 45 students and staff members who suddenly felt sick by ambulance to Kishwaukee Community Hospital where a total of 71 people were treated for elevated carbon monoxide levels, according to published reports.

Waste Management, unnamed First Responders, the Illinois EPA and a Jerome meter installed to monitor H2S levels inside Cortland Elementary School are sourced by District 428 in determining that during the event there was no alarm from the Jerome meter and afterwards there were zero levels of methane, carbon monoxide or H2S at the school.

Those involved while inadvertent are flippant in disregarding the medical professionals who based on the results of blood tests and other analysis provided treatment for carbon monoxide. According to District 428’s panel of sources carbon monoxide did not cause the students and staff to get sick.

Waste Management manned up and admitted that they made a mistake they won’t ever repeat that resulted in Cortland Elementary School being exposed to old garbage stench released from landfill gas containment pipe construction when high winds from the south was blowing from the landfill to the school that’s 1/4 mile away.

Officials from Waste Management have stated publicly that they will reimburse the associated costs related to the incident. The IEPA has asked Attorney General Lisa Madison to seek a court order for Waste Management to do just that.

But missing from District 428’s panel is anyone from the Illinois Department of Public Health or the DeKalb County Health Department. That glaring omission doesn’t comfort the whole Cortland community, parents, teachers and students included.

So here are the “demands” of the petitioners.*** First and foremost they want to know that it is safe to return to the school. Seems reasonable. So they want it closed until safety precautions are in place:

  1. Proper testing equipment for all landfill gasses is in place inside and outside the school and such equipment is monitored on a continuous basis.
  2. All such equipment is set to provide proper warning and protection for children.
  3. Prevention, response and notification plans are approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the school is deemed safe by a third party.

There is nothing unreasonable about these conditions.

Some, like me, think either the landfill or the school should be closed. Another event will happen and that opinion is based on this being already the second event since the school opened. Real or imagined the threat from landfill gases scare children and adults and that will make an education at Cortland Elementary less enjoyable than children attending other District 428 elementary schools. Even if it only smells bad and any sickness is only mentally induced.

If a new school is needed to replace Cortland Elementary School then the four parties that created this mess; that being District 428, Town of Cortland, County Board and Waste Management; should work the costs out so taxpayers are NOT stuck footing the bill.

One thing the IEPA could do is hold off on that permit for Waste Management to proceed with its sevenfold expansion of that landfill at least until item #3 above is fully addressed. All construction should be halted until a detection and response plan is in place. That would put an end to any need to dig up old landfill matter to place gas containment systems.

Some parents are not sending their children back to school until an independent all clear is given. Reportedly those not being sent will be excused for the week.

According to Clean Air For Cortland Elementary, Tammy Carson, Facility Maintenance, contacted the Cortland Fire Department to conduct another air quality test and again found zero traces of any landfill gases.

The maintenance staff has since installed 16 carbon monoxide detectors around the building. The HVAC system already had carbon dioxide detectors in the gymnasium and cafeteria. The new detectors detect carbon monoxide, propane, methane, and natural gases.

The school district like the county and the Town of Cortland can’t let a vested corporation give the all clear. Medical experts must not be ignored and the Illinois Department of Public Health must step in and do their jobs.

*** If you click the link to sign the petition there are a couple of things to note. The petition effort is grassroots. iPetitions provides a free service. After you provide your name and email address and click the orange “Sign Now” button you have signed the petition. (Comments optional). The next page after clicking the button is how iPetitions makes money to offer their service. Any donation goes to them and NOT Clean Air for Cortland Elementary.


  1. Not true Mac. Just anyone who knows about governmental funding will tell you that residential housing does not pay for itself! The services required cost more than the revenue from our very limited impact fees and property taxes. This is especially true if you are considering apartments. Those residents likely don’t contribute a lot of income or sales tax to the community. Low income apartment dwellers such as those non-students living in NIU’s greek row may also require more governmental services.
    If you are talking about a very wealthy North Shore community it may be different. Those residents pay high property taxes on their expensive properties, may pay substantial income tax, and have expendable money to purchase things and to pay sales tax. Do you think that the county should pay to move the school? The county doesn’t have any “pet” projects that I know of just real needs.

  2. I don’t know what happened to my last comment regarding taxes and impact fees on your site. I am glad I won your facetious award for comments. However, you misrepresented the choice I offered. That being between higher taxes to move the school or the landfill expansion. As someone who constantly rails against taxes, I wish you would answer the question. No one want school kids or residents of Cortlands Subvision “landfill North” to be adversely affected by the landfill. In my last comment I mentioned that local impact fees only pay for schools not all the other services including police, fire, jail, code enforcement, etc. I believe that Cliff Simonsen was right, residential housing does not pay for itself. It is a net loss when considering the services required by the residents. When one considers poor development decisions by Cortland and Dekalb one can see that they compound the costs to local government.

    • There is absolutely no reason to raise taxes even if the school is to be moved. The County is receiving $120 million in tipping fees over the next 30 years. The county should pay to either move the school or protect it from those tipping fees. That may result in less dollars for some pet projects but tough.

      Cliff Simonson left out annual property taxes in his new construction analysis.

      If it came down to higher taxes or closing the landfill I would gladly choose higher garbage disposal fees.

  3. We have a high quality of services in Illinois. Maybe some consolidation of various bodies such as townships could lower costs. Compared to the backward Southern states we have great governmental services. We have a senior’s and veteran’s tax levy that passed by referendum and our very popular. The public likes great services, unfortunately, someone has to pay for them. With a tax code that has more holes in it than swiss cheese, government is no longer collecting the revenue to pay for services. This is no accident as powerful interests have lobbied for years to reduce their taxes. We have many corporations that get corporate welfare. At least 800 million dollars in the state of Illinois. We have many for profit corporations that pay no taxes on profits. We have non profits and not for profits that pay a small amount of taxes, if any. However, some can pay their CEOs more than the President of the United States. Ironically, like Kish Health Systems they have to donate to the community doings like museums and theatre productions to keep their tax exemptions but they can’t pay their fair share of property taxes to local goernment. The county board was not responsible for Cortland’s planning and decision to approve a subdivision near the landfill. Cortland approved the area on all sides of the landfill for residential development. What should be done with the Cortland school? Should the school district raze it and increase their tax levy to pay for another? Should government raise impact fees to cover all their costs? In California when you build a home your impact fees cover police, fire, and jail costs not just the schools.

  4. I think that allowing a subdivision to be built next to the landfill was the cause of our current conundrum. I will never understand that decision. I believe that we need a national waste policy. I don’t like the idea of landfills. DeKalb County relies on residential housing for 2/3 of its property tax levy and farmland for 11%. The county needs revenue from some source to keep our property taxes down. Unless we get some economic growth, it seems to me that we get to pick our poison, more property taxes or a landfill expansion. Not an ideal situtation by far. I believe that the late Cliff Simonsen was right. He told me years ago that, “Current homeowners are subsidizing new residential development in the county.” With the pre crash growth have increased our population but have also increased the demands for services. Residential housing rarely pays for itself unless one is in a wealthy community like Wilmette. Even with impact fees, it doesn’t cover all additional costs of government.

    • So then, because someone was stupid enough to let a subdivision be built next to a landfill, and because government cost so much that new construction homes even with impact fees can’t cover them, then the DeKalb County Board should ignore that 71 people were treated at KCH for exposure to a landfill gas as a warning that the students attending the poorly planned or protected elementary school are exposed to potentially health threatening conditions? I understand the logic and that’s why as Americans and as residents of this county we should all be very concerned.

  5. I think the first question an observer would ask is “Why would Cortland approve a residential subdivision to be built next to the landfill?” Was there such a land shortage in Cortland that it was the only possible location for another subdivision? Anywhere near the landfill is the last place in the county that I would choose to live. To compound the debacle, the Dekalb School Board had to put a school there. Maybe this is a good argument for having governmental summits. If local governmental bodies met regularly to discuss common issues they may be able to prevent these errors in judgment.

    • I can’t believe the County and Waste Management sat back and let the school board build a school there. Why didn’t someone attend a plan commission meeting, a town trustee meeting, or a school board meeting and object to site for a school because of the landfill and the expansion plans? The County and WM knew the site was within spitting distance of a proposed megadump and except for emails between county board members expressing their disbelief that a school might be built on that site they said nothing. The matter was brought up at the kangaroo landfill public hearing. The county board certainly knew that the school was under construction but the $120 million tipping fees and frustration with voters for not passing a referendum to build a new jail perhaps clouded their vision. I do agree that a “Committee of the Whole” meaning all local governmental units is needed.

  6. No, I will not send my two sons back until the proper monitoring is in place inside and outside the school. My six year old son did get very sick due to the “odor”. It is my job as a mother to insure my children’s safety. How do I trust a system that put money before the children’s welfare? How do I trust a system that knew full well there have been previous positive readings at the school and did not inform every parent and future parents of the school??

    • Thank you Mac! I am a PTA member along with others involved with getting answers, but the meeting Friday night was not a PTA meeting. The PTA has had nothing to do with Clean Air for Cortland Elementary. As parents we have reached out to them for support, but only as parents.

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