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EPA finishes first round of yard sampling in La Salle

LaSalle News Tribune

Monday, April 16, 2018  |  Article  |  

Environment (41)

The U.S. Environmental Pro-tection Agency has finished collecting soil samples in La Salle from residential yards near the Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Co. Superfund cleanup site.

Samples were collected by Jacobs Engineering in late February and early March from 256 properties in Phase I of the project, according to the EPA.

Growing Superfund awareness

After years of investigation and now that soil samples have been completed, residents are talking more, said resident Lisa Dyas, who lives with her family on Zinc Street.

“I think people are finally understanding,” she said. “I think some people at first thought this was junk mail.”

Residents got a wake-up call when crews began marking underground utilities with flags in February prior to soil sampling, Dyas said.

“People really started talking about it and now they are realizing how widespread it actually is,” she said.

Results by late May

Cynthia Grant’s front and back yard on 11th Street were sampled in late February, she said.

“I went outside and chit-chatted with them,” Grant said. “They were here for quite a while, maybe an hour, hour and a half.”

The EPA said property owners will receive results about three months after sampling, roughly in late May.

If contamination is above the agency’s action level, EPA will dig up and remove contaminated soil and replace it with clean topsoil and restore landscaping. Soil sampling and replacement is being paid for by the federal government, with no cost to property owners.

Contaminants of concern are lead, manganese, arsenic, zinc, cadmium and chromium, believed to have been dispersed on the wind from the nearby Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc factory.

The plant operated from 1858 to 1978, smelting zinc ore, mining coal, producing ammonia sulfate fertilizer and sulfuric acid, and rolling zinc. The last 10 years, only the rolling mills were in operation. Zinc rolling started up again in 1980 and operated until 2001.

More than half agreed

The EPA sent access agreement forms to 613 property owners in an area roughly eight-by-nine blocks. As of early February, about 320 agreed to sampling and if needed, cleanup. Since then, several dozen more residents have signed access agreements, according to the EPA. Property owners have the right to refuse sampling and cleanup.

Property values a concern near M&H Zinc factory cleanup site

This map shows the residential area in La Salle that will see soil sampling beginning in February and March by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Property owners were given access agreements to sign if they wanted sampling and cleanup. This yellow-shaded area contains 613 properties immediately west of the former Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Factory grounds, the source of unhealthy levels of metals and metalloids found in soils during previous sampling by the EPA.

Zinc Street residents

On Zinc Street, which borders the west side of the former factory grounds, residents said soil samples were extracted fairly quickly.

“I have quite a big yard,” said Dyas. “I would say they were done within 45 minutes.”

A crew of four pulled back portions of grass sod, used an auger to gather soil, and put the sod back in place. The sample holes were slightly wider than a beverage can, Dyas said.

“We haven’t got the results back yet but we are patiently waiting,” she said.

Resident Ron Nadolny said the crew gathered samples from about 12 spots in his yard, bagged up the soil and left.

“They were here, I’m going to say, maybe an hour, a little more than an hour,” he said.

A member of the sampling crew told him results would be ready in about three months, Nadolny said.

“He said if a yard is contaminated, they’ll take care of the people who have young children, and the people that are older without young kids around, they’ll get those later,” he said.

The EPA has said households with young children would get priority for sampling and cleanup.

9-year-old plus a crawlspace

Dyas has a 9-year-old son born with one kidney. Cadmium, one of the contaminants of concern in this cleanup, can affect kidney function.

“They’re being very close-knit with us,” Dyas said of the EPA.

Two engineers came to inspect a dirt crawlspace in her basement, Dyas said.

“Depending on the findings in our front yard, that will determine if they sample the crawlspace,” she said.

What’s next?

The next steps include getting laboratory test results of the soils and designing cleanup plans for residential yards that have contaminants above acceptable levels.

Soil cleanup is proposed to begin next spring, pending funding, and the second phase of soil sampling also will likely begin next spring, according to the EPA.

The EPA said it tentatively plans to host another public meeting later this year. Meetings were previously held Dec. 18 and Feb. 7 at La Salle-Peru Township High School.