Hazardous wastes, like hot potatoes, are passed from one frightened state to another
WHAT may become known as the "battle of Wilsonville" has developed in the past few months from a minor skirmish in the small mining community in southern Macoupin County into a full-scale engagement in the courts, the legislature and the media.
The community of 700 persons in Central Illinois is the site of a landfill operated by Earthline Corp., which accepts highly toxic industrial wastes through routine permits issued by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). Protests over the landfill by the village residents were ignited in April when it was learned that the site was receiving wastes containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are highly resistant chemicals used in manufacturing and can cause skin and liver ailments.
Through the initiative of the local citizens and actions of their local officials and state representatives, state and national attention has been focused on the controversy.
At a news conference in the State Capitol May 6 along with area legislators, Reps. John Sharp and A. C. Bartulis, IEPA Director Leo Eisel said that state law forbids the agency to disclose the names of materials being dumped in Wilsonville. The placement of landfills is a very important problem in the state, Eisel said. Without regulated landfills, "the wastes would simply be dumped down sewers in the middle of the night." Asked if the Wilsonville landfill has materials "more toxic" than PCBs, Eisel replied, "I don't know what is meant by toxic, but if you mean at least as hazardous to humans, the answer is probably yes. There are hazardous and toxic materials in that landfill." Eisel said, "We are concerned about the people of Wilsonville." He noted that while Illinois is in the forefront of states regulating the disposal of hazardous materials, "we still have inadequate control."
At a Wilsonville town meeting May 7 in the meeting hall of Holy Cross Church, Father Casimir Gierut, the pastor and principal leader of the protest, accused the state EPA of "acting as a dictatorship." He called upon the people to become "a little more political minded." Gierut said, "All we want to know is what they're putting in the landfill."
Two weeks earlier Father Gierut had organized a roadblock to stop the trucks delivering the soil from Missouri which contained PCBs. The roadblock was called off, however, because of the threat of violence from angry citizens. "The people were extremely mad and emotions were high. I had a megaphone and I couldn't even hold their attention. They wanted action now and they wanted the roadblock."
Hundreds of area residents, many of them farmers, showed up the night before for the roadblock scheduled to begin at 5 a.m. that Monday morning, April 25. Father Gierut said the crowd was becoming uncontrollable and remained on the scene until late Sunday night when Macoupin County Stated Attorney Kenneth Boyle arrived and told the crowd he would file a petition for injunction against Earthline on behalf of Macoupin County.
Macoupin County Circuit Court Judge John Russell had earlier granted a temporary injunction against the dumping of the contaminated soil. Wilsonville special attorney Paul Verticchio and Boyle joined forces in seeking a permanent injunction. Verticchio and Boyle are both well known figures in Macoupin County. Verticchio is a former circuit court judge and Boyle is a former state representative. Boyle had said it was "a clear and imminent danger not only to the citizens of Wilsonville but to other parts of Macoupin County in that this chemical is highly toxic, dangerous and could be transmitted into water supplies and underground wells and sewage systems in other areas of Macoupin County."
Earthline attorney Fred Prillaman, a former IEPA lawyer, argued that the toxic materials being buried at Earthline are only "the tip of the iceberg" in a national problem of trying to properly dispose of poisonous chemicals. "This is one of the few sites in the United States that can accept such wastes," he said. "Getting rid of hazardous wastes is a national issue." He said the case could become a landmark for challenging landfills in other parts of the country.
4 / August 1977 / Illinois Issues
The movement and disposal of hazardous wastes in the United States has become a "shell game." Liquid wastes have become hot potatoes as they are passed from one frightened state to another.
Congressman Paul Findley (R., Pittsfield), who appeared at two Wilsonville town meetings early in May, said the federal EPA is just now beginning to formulate regulations in the hazardous waste field. Presently the federal government cannot assume jurisdiction unless there is a finding by the Department of Justice, through the U.S. attorney general, that a grave danger is found to exist. "The evidence now available to me does not show this," Findley said in May.
Findley said the Illinois EPA officials feel that the state agency's jurisdiction precedes local zoning. "The Illinois law does not specify how close a landfill disposal site of this nature can be to residences," he said. Legislation Findley was drafting would be a bill to amend the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. His amendment would provide for federal EPA standards to consider proximity to inhabited areas, potential adverse effects on water, and location of such sites on suitable public lands or land donated to either the state or federal government. "Clearly our nation must have safe disposal sites," he said. "Wilsonville is not the only community in the nation facing this kind of problem. Wilsonville has been overtaken by events. We face an accomplished act." Findley noted that the Wilsonville site is often cited as a safe operation. The problem with the landfill is its location, he said. Earthline's main gate is only four blocks from downtown. Of the 130-acre landfill site at Wilsonville, 90 acres lie within the city limits.
After a tentative report from U.S. Bureau of Mines state liaison officer, Thomas 0. Glover, Findley told the Wilsonville residents, "The evidence appears less than reassuring that the Wilsonville site is completely safe in years to come. There is a strong likelihood that within 20 years, chemical substances stored at the Earthline site could escape through subsidence cracks which is exactly what the residents fear. It remains open to serious debate as to whether or not the cushioning effects of the clay subsoil could withstand cracking and retain their impermeability. Until this point is cleared up, the wisdom of using the site for storage of toxic wastes appears questionable."
The Earthline landfill at Wilsonville was mined by the Superior Coal Company from 1918 to 1954. Residents fear mine subsidence which often causes surface cracking could allow chemical substances to escape.
One of the major obstacles to the residents' effort to remove the Wilsonville landfill is that Earthline Corp. has followed all the necessary procedures in operating the site. Thomas E. Cavanagh Jr., manager of the land permit unit in the IEPA, said that under the permit process, the IEPA must first grant a permit to develop a waste disposal site, then a permit to operate the site, then an additional or supplemental permit is needed for each individual special waste, such as PCB-related or other hazardous wastes, to go into a site.
In the Wilsonville case, all permits were issued to Earthline Corp., the operator of the site, as far as IEPA records or files are concerned. Cavanagh said Earthline followed all the necessary procedures in getting all the required permits. A developmental permit for the Wilsonville site was obtained early in 1976 and an operating permit late last year. Earthline requested under the provision of Illinois law that trade secrets information be kept in confidence. "We honored the request," he said. Earthline "apparently didn't want information released on what's being deposited at the site," Cavanagh said, "and from what specific companies. Earthline wanted to keep their customers secret, we assume."
At present, the IEPA has issued permits for about 400 waste disposal sites in the state. About 25 to 30 of them have requested and received supplemental permits to handle hazardous and other special wastes. Besides the Wilsonville site, there is only one other site with the supplemental permit where information is being withheld from public disclosure at the request of the site operator or owner. That one is in the Chicago area. Cavanagh said, "At other sites, interested persons can find out what's being deposited and other relevant information. Our files are open."
Public input on the issuance of permits comes at the developmental permit request stage, he said. "When Earthline sought its developmental permit, the public in that area was notified. I don't recall the matter generating much interest at the time." However, local citizens contend they were not aware of the purpose of the site as a waste disposal and recycling facility until April of this year.
Demuzio and the representatives from the 49th District faced tough opposition in passing legislation which would affect the dumping or transportation of hazardous wastes in the state. Lobbyists representing business in the state, such as the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, fought efforts to pass hazardous waste bills. H.B. 2415, sponsored by Reps. A. C. Bartulis (R., Benld) and John Sharp (D., Wood River), would have prohibited disposal of hazardous refuse in Illinois from sources outside the state. The bill was introduced as emergency legislation but was not viewed as such by the House Rules Committee, which voted not to consider the bill.
Demuzio faced a series of setbacks along with a few victories in trying to amend other bills to include hazardous waste disposal and transportation. He succeeded in adding an amendment to S.B. 574 which would force the IEPA to disclose all toxic substances being dumped in the state. Demuzio's amendment was added to legislation sponsored by Sen. John Roe (R., Rochelle) which covered IEPA's guidelines for issuing permits. However, Demuzio was not as successful with an amendment to a House bill which would have prohibited the disposal or transportation of any hazardous refuse into Illinois which
August 1977 / Illinois Issues / 5
originated or was collected outside the territorial limits of the state.
Demuzio attached this amendment to H.B. 2108, sponsored by Rep. James M. Houlihan (D., Lincoln Park), in a Senate committee and later on the Senate floor on the bill's second reading. Demuzio ran into opposition on this amendment from former House Majority Leader Gerald Shea, who is now a lobbyist for Nuclear Engineering Inc., which runs the state's only other hazardous waste disposal site at Sheffield. The bill passed the House with Demuzio's amendment intact, but was defeated in the Senate, 22-26. Demuzio said that while radioactive wastes were not included in his amendment. Nuclear Engineering's hazardous waste disposal site receives 60 per cent of its business from out of state.
Scott's office appeared in Macoupin County Circuit Court in Carlinville, the site of the present hearing, to ask for a court ruling to lift the secrecy surrounding the question of what types of hazardous materials were being buried in Wilsonville. "For years we've fought for the public's right to know what types of hazardous materials are being shipped and stored in Illinois," he said. "Wilsonville is no exception. If Judge John Russell agrees with our request, the public will know the types of hazardous materials stored and wild rumors will be laid to rest."
Father Gierut contacted the Attorney General's Office in mid-May to complain that a realty company had proposed to purchase homes near the Earthline landfill at unreasonably low prices. "All these homes are around the Earthline property," he said. "It's adding fuel to the already high emotional status of the people." Gierut said the people of Wilsonville believed Earthline was behind the offers. The news spread "like wildfire" throughout the community. "I'm trying to restrain the emotions and unrest of a troubled community faced with the PCB issue by preaching peace and patience," Gierut told Scott in a letter.
Scott announced on May 25 plans to file a lawsuit to close down the Earthline site. His action followed by one day published reports that the Bloomington, Ind., Utility Service was considering a move to have 1,600 tons of PCB-contaminated sludge shipped to a "special landfill in Illinois." At a Springfield news conference, Scott said, "It's intolerable that one of the most populated states in the nation should become a dumping-ground for PCBs from surrounding states. For all we know, PCBs are coming in from states all around us, as well as from within Illinois. Congress has banned future production and distribution of polychlorinated biphenyls — it's time Illinois bans the dumping of PCBs."
Scott said his lawsuit would be
brought under the independent power
of the attorney general to enforce the
state's environmental protection laws.
His office was at cross purposes for
awhile because the attorney general is
constitutionally the legal advisor to
state agencies such as EPA. Scott's
office advised the EPA to obtain its own
attorney to represent the agency during
Scott also added his endorsement to
Demuzio, Bartulis and Sharp in their
efforts to pass bills restricting the
dumping and transportation of hazardous wastes in Illinois. When Bartulis
and Sharp's bill was bottled up in the
House Rules Committee, Scott criticized lobbyists for blocking the measure. "I'm sick at heart that the Rules
Committee refused to deal with this
emergency measure," Scott told reporters later. His suggestion that the
business community and what he called
"big bucks" blocked the bill touched off
tempers among some of the committee's
members. Rep. Monroe Flinn (D.,
Cahokia) called for a public apology
from Scott for implying that he and the
other members had accepted money to
keep the bill from reaching the House
Scott also added his endorsement to Demuzio, Bartulis and Sharp in their efforts to pass bills restricting the dumping and transportation of hazardous wastes in Illinois. When Bartulis and Sharp's bill was bottled up in the House Rules Committee, Scott criticized lobbyists for blocking the measure. "I'm sick at heart that the Rules Committee refused to deal with this emergency measure," Scott told reporters later. His suggestion that the business community and what he called "big bucks" blocked the bill touched off tempers among some of the committee's members. Rep. Monroe Flinn (D., Cahokia) called for a public apology from Scott for implying that he and the other members had accepted money to keep the bill from reaching the House floor.
There was some confusion concerning the governor's moratorium however. Wilsonville residents understood it to mean Thompson had banned all toxic shipments from other states. An angry crowd of 75 Wilsonville residents blocked four trucks carrying the PCB-contaminated soil from Missouri, One man threw himself in front of the wheels of one truck. "Our town is up in arms" said Louis Pellegrini, a grocer and head of the volunteer fire department in Wilsonville. "We are determined to stop this dumping."
After the confusion was settled, IEPA Director Eisel announced June 1 a "self-imposed" moratorium for two weeks until the tense situation cooled down, Thompson's moratorium, it was finally decided, did not apply to permits already issued by the IEPA for dumping at Wilsonville. That same day Scott requested an immediate injunction to stop shipments of PCBs to the Earthline landfill. A month later on July 1 he amended his lawsuit to ask the Macoupin County Circuit Court to order Earthline Corp. to remove all extra-hazardous wastes stored at its Wilsonville site and to fine the company $1,125,000 for causing alleged violations of pollution statutes.
Attention shifted in June to the proceedings in Macoupin County Court where the village, county and attorney general's office have joined their suits against Earthline. The hearing could take months as attorneys representing all concerned debate whether the landfill is threatening the environment of the area and the health of its residents. Meanwhile, the case is being heard periodically in the Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield where the next stage of action will take place following the circuit court's decision, Wilsonville residents daily attend the hearings while others work at raising money to pay attorneys' fees through such town projects as fish fries and dances. Still others stay home, watching the trucks marked "poison" travel down 111. 138, through town and up to Earthline's gates. If anyone still thinks a small town is a place to get away from it all, he should visit this one.
6 / August 1977 / Illinois Issues