Completion of Waukegan Harbor cleanup expected in September
By Long Hwa-shu Special to The News-Sun August 16, 2013 6:42PM
10th District Congressman Bradley Schneider (D-Deerfield) and Jean B. Schreiber, chair of the Waukegan Harbor Citizen's Advisory Group. | Submitted photo
Updated: September 18, 2013 6:07AM
The Waukegan Harbor Citizens’ Advisory Group pre-celebrated the completion of the PCB cleanup from the harbor at its annual picnic Thursday night at the Port Authority veranda with food, wine and conversation about the monumental task that seemed never-ending.
It has been has been 23 years since the cleanup project first began, but the job won’t be completed until September, according to Tim Drexler, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official in charge of the project.
“Right now, the cleanup is 85 percent done. It will be competed in September,” said Drexler, remedial project manager for OMC (Ouboard Marine Corp.) Superfund site.
“We have reached our cleanup goal of 0.2 parts per million,” he stressed.
By comparison, at the start of the project by the EPA, the harbor had a PCB contamination level of 30 parts per million in some areas. The harbor is not completely free of PCBs, but at 0.2 parts per million the level is acceptable by EPA standards for the site. Different cleanup sites have different acceptable levels, Drexler noted. PCB is known to cause cancer in animals and may have adverse effects on the immune, nerve and reproductive systems.
“It’s safe to eat species of fish that live in the harbor once a month. These include sun fish and white suckers,” said Drexler. The Citizens’ advisory group was formed in 1981 to show its concerns after the harbor was discovered to have the largest known concentration of PCBs.
10th District Congressman Bradley Schneider (D-Deerfield) lauded the group for its “dedication and perseverance” in helping reach the milestone.
“It’s a great accomplishment, a stepping stone to grow the economy, not only for Waukegan, but for Lake County,” he said, while promising to secure additional funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program to protect the lakes which border eight states with 30 million people using the water resources.
The picnic, hosted by group chairman Jean B. Schreiber, was sponsored by Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley; Roy Czajkowski, a member of the advisory group; and also Midwest Generation, which has a power plant on the lakefront. Motley hailed the cleanup as “a daunting task and a monumental achievement.”
“It’s very impressive they stuck to it over the years,” said Czajkowski, director of Midwest region for US-Pacific Rim International Inc.
So far, $36 million from the Superfund has been spent in the harbor cleanup alone, according to Drexler. In addition, another $50 million will have been spent for cleaning up the contaminated soil and buildings.
The now defunct Outboard Marine Corp., a maker of outboard engines headquartered near the Waukegan Harbor, has been held responsible for dumping millions of gallons of PCBs into the harbor. PCB had been used in engine die-casting.
Before it went bankrupt in 2000, OMC, at one time one of Lake County’s largest employers, spent an estimated $24 million in trying to clean up the harbor from 1990 to 1993 but left the job undone.
“In some parts of the harbor, the contamination was found to be as high as 500,000 parts per million,” said Drexler, pointing out that EPA had engaged in a series of long negotiations with OMC regarding the cleanup, often with impasses. The EPA finally took over the cleanup job in 1993 after OMC went under.
Why has it taken so long?
The securing of funding from Congress, understandably a long, tedious process requiring much jawboning. The project has also involved the Illinois EPA and the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
The cleanup is a time-consuming and labor intensive process involving dredging the sediments from the bottom of the harbor and the building of a $15 million treatment plant to clean the sediments with water. The water, after treatment, is pumped back to the lake. Dredging is done by hydraulic vacuum, which sucks up the sediments. As much as 150,000 cubic yards of sediments have been dredged from the bottom of the harbor, said Drexler. In addition, 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil had to be removed.
The sediments removed have been bagged and stored at a site on the lakefront the size of three football fields. The site will be capped with dirt with vegetation planted. It will be “forever monitored” by the EPA for possible environmental hazards.