Even after gas plant clean up, neighbors still worry about potential toxins

Ameren has been working to clean up chemicals remaining on former gas plant site. Neighbors say they still have concerns about toxins. (WCCU)

It's been 10 years the Champaign County Health Care Consumers first started meeting to discuss concerns about possible toxins left over from the former gas plant on 4th and Hill Street.

Ameren inherited the site around 2005 when they merged with Illinois Power. Ever since, they’ve been working to clean up any remaining coal tar on the site, left over from the gas plant. Coal tar is a byproduct of gas production and can be toxic.

Champaign Public Works says they believe Ameren has done a pretty good job cleaning up those chemicals since taking over the space.

"The site was the former site of a manufactured gas plant and there was some coal tar that was left there,” public information officer for Champaign Public Works Kris Koester said. “Ameren, in conjunction with the Illinois EPA, has voluntarily worked to remediate that site of the toxic stuff that was left behind and they're now about 95 percent complete with that."

Ameren employee Brian Martin, supervisor of waste management and environmental assessments, says the cleanup began in the 1990's before they even owned the site. Now he says about 95 percent of the cleanup is complete—the only coal tar remaining is about 10 feet underground in the soil.

Those who live next to the former gas plant say they still have concerns.

"I've got a furnace in the basement,” neighbor M.D. Pelmore said. “When it comes through the ground water the fans in the basement picks that up, the scent of it up, you know the fumes, and brings it through the house."

Champaign County Health Care Consumers has been organizing meetings with neighbors about the issue. Executive director Claudia Lennhoff says it's the vapor from water running underground they're concerned about.

Ameren says residents don't need to worry about ground water, since water supplied to the homes comes from the city.

Moving forward, Ameren says they’re working to find the most convenient way to address the remaining underground coal tar without causing an inconvenience for neighbors. Accessing the dirt below the surface could mean road closures or sidewalk interruptions. This is their last step in the cleanup project.

"That's on their property, but now off site, there is toxins underneath the street out there and coming up through the sewers and stuff like that. And that's still there."

Neighbors say they don’t think Ameren’s job is complete without first testing their properties for any toxins that may have reached their property over the years. They say if any coal tar is found, even underground, they want Ameren to fix it.

City officials say Ameren’s site is up to par with Illinois EPA requirements.

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