The plaintiffs are demanding that the Illinois Pollution Control Board require Clinton Landfill, Inc., a subsidiary of Area Disposal Services in Peoria, to get a permit from DeWitt County to operate a chemical disposal site at the company’s landfill. The company has a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and is awaiting federal permission to start dumping material containing concentrations of PCBs, a group of toxic chemicals banned in the United States since the 1970s.
In the lawsuit filed last month, the plaintiffs say they believe that low-level PCBs and waste from cleanups of old plants that once made gas from coal or oil is already being deposited at the landfill, which started life as a municipal waste disposal site.
“I think they’re under the impression they have the authority to do that,” said Joseph Hooker, an assistant city attorney for Champaign. “We’re challenging that notion.”
In 2010, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a permit modification that converted more than 22 acres of the landfill to a chemical waste disposal site. Hooker said that Champaign and other jurisdictions that have joined in the lawsuit weren’t aware of the state approval until it was too late.
“The communities that are involved in this lawsuit really didn’t understand this while the approval process was underway,” Hooker said. “Certainly, from the city of Champaign’s standpoint, we didn’t know about it.”
Landfill opponents are concerned that pollution could enter an aquifer 150 feet beneath the landfill that provides drinking water for as many as 750,000 people in 15 counties. The list of plaintiffs includes Champaign, the Mahomet Valley Water Authority, Urbana, Bloomington, Normal, Champaign County, Piatt County, Decatur, Savoy and the mayors of Champaign and Urbana.
Notably absent is DeWitt County, which issued a permit for a municipal waste landfill in 2002 and agreed to allow chemical disposal five years later. The DeWitt County board in 2007 also agreed not to oppose the company’s application for a federal waste permit.
Since then, the landfill has become a hot political issue, and several members of the county board who blessed the company’s plans have been voted out of office. Most recently, a leading landfill opponent who ran as an independent last month ousted a longtime incumbent.
DeWitt County officials years ago said that a permit to dump PCBs was a question for the federal government, not the county. However, plaintiffs in the lawsuit say that dumping chemicals requires local approval beyond what the county has given.
“They were supposed to get permission from the DeWitt board to do this,” said Albert Ettinger, a Chicago attorney who is representing the plaintiffs. “They didn’t get permission from the DeWitt board.”
The landfill has drawn recent attention from the top echelons of government. State legislators from central Illinois this year pushed a bill that would require proponents of landfills to get approval from counties and municipalities that get drinking water from aquifers beneath proposed dumps. Last spring, U.S. senators Mark Kirk and Richard Durbin wrote letters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expressing concerns about the pending permit application to dump PCBs at Clinton.
“PCBs are a known carcinogen, and just one leak from the waste facility could permanently contaminate the aquifer, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without a safe source of drinking water,” the senators wrote.
Hooker said he expects that the lawsuit filed last month would take “several months” to adjudicate.
“It depends on how vigorous the opposition is,” Hooker said.
Company representatives could not be reached for comment.
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