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Case closed on Wauconda Superfund site
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff

In 2006, more than 400 homes in unincorporated areas near a federal Superfund site were connected to Wauconda's municipal water system after vinyl chloride was detected in some private wells.

 

Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/11/2009 12:01 AM

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The safeguards don't satisfy everyone, and whether a potentially cancer-causing chemical will resurface in wells near a Superfund site near Wauconda is unknown.

But more than five years after vinyl chloride was detected in well water in unincorporated subdivisions near the former Wauconda Sand and Gravel landfill, a federal judge has agreed a plan to monitor the site is fair and in the public interest.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow late last week signed a consent decree ending the civil case against 14 companies that used the landfill at Bonner and Garland roads.

"It certainly completes the process of getting our settlement approved," said Mark Koller, associate regional counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The decree outlines how the area will be monitored and regulated in the future.

Kurt Hacke, who lives in the unincorporated Valentine Lake subdivision near the landfill, serves on the Wauconda Superfund Community Advisory Group, which has been dealing with issues involving past and potential water contamination.

He said Lefkow's action was significant in that it formalizes required actions regarding the safety of the water supply.

"We want to make sure someone is watching." he said.

Hacke questioned some of the details, such as having only one monitoring well in the area where contaminants are thought to be traveling as well as the frequency of testing in some areas. There also are nearly three dozen homes in the area that should have been connected to municipal water, he contended.

Lake County Board member Bonnie Thomson Carter, whose district includes the landfill, agreed with Hacke, saying those residents were "orphaned." She also contended the EPA did not address comments from the county health department and others, including herself.

"I was terribly disappointed," she said.

The EPA determined that water in those areas is safe and that proximity to the landfill does not equate to risk from vinyl chloride contamination.

The consent decree, a legal document that outlines monitoring plans and other aspects dealing with the site, was lodged in federal court on behalf of the U.S. EPA in August 2007.

Since then, 109 comments were entered in the record, as were EPA responses to questions involving the proposed plans. The 74-acre site has had a long history of regulatory involvement since it was closed by state environmental authorities in 1978.

The most recent actions began in late 2003, when the Lake County Health Department detected vinyl chloride in excess of federal drinking water standards in three private wells in the Hillcrest subdivision.

Further testing showed the presence of the chemical, used to make plastic pipe, in 81 of 125 private wells, but none were above federal standards. In several rounds of tests, a total of four wells were found to contain levels above the federal standards, according to the EPA.

No illnesses directly related to vinyl chloride have been reported.

In late 2004, the entities that had used the landfill, known as the Wauconda Task Group, proposed eliminating the threat by connecting more than 400 homes to Wauconda's municipal water supply.

Homes in the Hillcrest, Lakeview Villa, North Shore, Wellsmere Heights, Spencer Highlands and Elmcrest subdivision as well as some on south Garland Road were connected to municipal water. The project was considered a key remedy by federal authorities.

That left the details of groundwater monitoring, testing and other actions to detect any recurrence or migration of the chemical. A voluminous plan to monitor groundwater and other measures are part of the decree.

Koller said the landfill would be monitored for a minimum of 15 years and includes provisions for action if contaminants begin moving in an unexpected fashion.

"The most important point for those folks outside the service area is that there is continuous monitoring called for," he said.

Landfill: Site will be monitored for at least 15 years