Mea Culpa Agreement Emits Bad Odor

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

Does the headline suggest that I’m not happy with the agreement between Waste Management and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan over the stinking controversy at the Cortland Township/DeKalb County Landfill and its nearby neighbor Cortland Elementary School?

That’s because I’m crushed — again — with this system of government practiced in Illinois.

The agreement was apparently based on a field inspector’s report that did not include samples from a 10′-12′ hole next to a landfill gas well or interviews of actual victims sickened by a still unknown bad odor.

Government protection shouldn’t stop with those who pay to play. That’s an elementary school sitting next to a leaking landfill that’s about to get expanded sevenfold. The staff and students attending and their neighbors need the protection. Instead it appears some of those charged with leadership responsibilities are acting to limit liability.

Environmental hazards do occur regardless of how much tipping (or other) fees are agreed to. Take a 30 minute drive down to Wedron and see if you can still start your lawnmower with your tap water.

Or ask Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of West Virginia’s largest public health department why his own family still doesn’t trust the water supply after a chemicals leaked into the Elk River from the Freedom Industries storage facility.

Better yet ask Lisa Madigan why she appealed last year’s Illinois Pollution Control Board order allowing the Clinton Landfill to store cancer-causing PCBs. The Clinton Landfill, like DeKalb County Landfill, sits on top of a huge aquifer.

Area Disposal Service Inc. owns the landfill and has said it would install a liner to protect the aquifer. Waste Management told the Illinois Pollution Control Board the same thing about the landfill expansion at Cortland.

The nearest school to the Clinton Landfill is miles away. Cortland Elementary School is some 1,300 feet from the DeKalb County Landfill.

Here are the compliance obligations agreed to by Waste Management and the Attorney General’s office: (full Agreement Order can be viewed here.)

  1. Effective immediately upon entry of this Agreed Order, the Defendant shall not initiate any excavation into solid waste at the Landfill when the prevailing winds are from the southwest, south or southeast in excess of ten (10) miles per hour or when atomspheric conditions exist which likely lead to odors impact the School.
  2. Effective immediately upon entry of this Agreed Order, the Defendant shal require that all employees, contractors or the construction quality assurance officer, while conducting excavating activities at the Landfill, wear a 4-gas monitor that detect the presence of combustible gas, Oxygen, Carbon Monoxide, and Hydrogen Sulfide. Additionally, all readings and calibration documentation shall be available for Illinois EPA inspection; however, if any meter goes to alarm, that documentation shall be submitted to Donna Shehane at the Illinois EPA within one (1) business day via the method detailed in Paragraph 16.
  3. Effective immediately upon entry of this Agreed Order, the Defendant shall provide email notice to Donna Shehane and David Retzlaff at the Illinois EPA at the email addresses listed in Paragraph 16, no later than 24 hours priopr to future waste excavations for the purpose of completing the expansion work on the Landfill’s gas collection system.
  4. Within ten (10) days of the entry of this Agreed Order, the Defendant shall collect two (2) samples from its gas collection system. The first sample shall be collected from the wellhead nearest to the excavation which caused the Incident. The second sample shall be taken at the terminus of the gas collection system just prior to entry into the Landfill’s flare. Both samples shall be collected and analyzed utilizing methods for volatile and semi-volatile organic constituents. Within twenty-four (24) hours of the sample being collected the Defendant shall submit the samples to an Illinois EPA approved laboratory for expedited analysis. The sample results shall be provided to all individuals listed in Paragraph 16 of this Agreed Order within three (3) days of receipt.
  5. Within seven (7) days of the entry of this Agreed Order, the Defendant shall install at the Landfill a weather station capable of continuously monitoring and recording temperature, wind speed, wind direction and barometric pressure. Monitoring results shall be maintained and available for Illinois EPA inspection for a period of six (6) months.
  6. Within ten (10) days of the entry of this Agreed Order, the Defendant shall establish an informational and document repository that allows for unrestricted public access to information relevant to this matter. This repository shall contain at a minimum any filings from this proceeding and the results of any sampling analusis. Additionally, within two (2) days of the repository being established, the Defendant shall publicize the existence of the repository in a local newspaper of general circulation and notify the Plaintiff. The respository shall be updated every seven (7) days unless the Plaintiff and Defendant agree otherwise.
  7. The Defendent shall notify each contractor to be retained to perform work required by the Agreed Order of the requirements of this Agreed Order relevant to the activities to be performed by that contractor, including all relevant work schedules and reporting deadlines, and shall provide a copy of this Agreed Order to each contractor already retained no later than ten (10) calendar days after the date of entry of this Agreed Order.
  8. In addition to any other authority, the Illinois EPA, its employees and representatives and the Attorney General, her agents and representatives, are granted access to the Landfill, at all reasonable times, for the purposes of carrying out inspections. In conducting such inspections, the Illinois EPA, its employees and representatives, and the Attorney General, her employees and representatives, may take photographjs and samples, as well as collect information, as they deem necessary.

The samples called for in this agreement should have been taken immediately after officials from Cortland Elementary School notified Waste Management of the odor that was making several people at the school sick.

It does not appear that any interviews of victims or neighbors of landfill were conducted by the Illinois EPA. Several parents and staff members reported odor problems at the school began on Monday, Jan. 13 and worsened the next day.

At the Cortland informational meeting I asked the EPA officials present to interview neighbors south of the landfill because one of them sent me the following email (with some redactions):

I read online that Mac spoke at the meeting last night. I wish I could have been there. But I just want to let you know what happened to me last week. Not saying its related but, just want to throw it out there.

Mon, Tues, Wed, I worked 10-1/2 to 11 hour days. Thursday morning woke up sick, bad headache, dizzy and sick to my stomach. I came to work anyway at 7am, by 10 am I starting throwing up. Went home. Did not feel good all day, at this point I thought it was the flu. I also want to mention, that there has been an odor in my office this whole time. But nothing I could pinpoint. I stayed home Friday, just didn’t feel like myself. By Friday night I was feeling a lot better. Saturday morning, felt great, I came to work. After 3 hours I start feeling ill all over again. [an employee] came up to my office and said the odor was bad and making him lightheaded. I opened a window to let “fresh” air in and 5 minutes later I decided to just go home. I started having chest pains. On Monday, [the building owner] had HVAC techs and a plumber search high and low with detectors to find some sort of leak or problem. None found. […] Now, I’m south of the Dump. So it’s possible the wind was blowing a different direction. I really didn’t pay attention. I just wanted Mac to know because I keep reading that none of the detectors went off and that it was just an “odor”. I have serious concerns about this. If it was just an “odor” how come small levels of carbon monoxide were found.

Anyways, please let Mac know,  there might be more going on out here than there letting on.

I also asked the Illinois EPA officials at the meeting to check H2S levels at the lift station located southeast of the school and to monitor H2S traveling on the Union Ditch that cuts through the landfill property and becomes the East Branch of the South Branch of the Kishwaukee River.

According to the World Health Organization H2s is soluble in oil and water; therefore, it may partition to surface waters, groundwaters, or moist soils and subsequently travel great distances in the right conditions. Perhaps the H2S Dr. Aubrey Serewicz reported from testing at the lift station was transported via the Union Ditch? Perhaps Cortland Elementary School is vulnerable to sour gas (another common name for H2S) from more than ambient air sources and wind?

Instead it appears that as far as those who are charged with the responsibility of protecting the public are concerned any testing should be at the source Waste Management identified and only the snapshot in time that coincided with ambulances being called to transport patients.

District 428 is conducting an update informational meeting on the Jan. 14 incident Thursday, Feb. 6 starting at 6pm at the DeKalb High School auditorium.

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