Support CCHCC and the 5th & Hill Campaign - July 2010
My name is M.D. Pelmore and I am a resident of the 5th & Hill neighborhood in Champaign, and a member of the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign. Champaign County Health Care Consumers is working with residents like me to organize this environmental justice campaign to get the toxic contamination in our neighborhood cleaned up.
The toxic contamination comes from a toxic site owned by Ameren. The toxic site used to be a manufactured gas plant and the toxic chemicals from that site have polluted the soil and groundwater beyond the Ameren site, into residential areas of the neighborhood.
My house is across the street from the toxic site that Ameren owns. From my front door, I can see the large white tent, several stories tall, that is used to contain and filter toxic dust and vapors that get released during the soil clean-up process.
Although Ameren has started to clean-up the soil, there is a long way to go for a real clean-up of all the toxic chemicals from their site. For example, Ameren doesn’t want to clean up the toxic groundwater – and the IL EPA is not forcing them to do so – even though polluted groundwater can spread dangerous chemicals into people’s homes through a process called “vapor intrusion.”
The IL EPA and the City of Champaign don’t want to believe that the toxic groundwater can lead to contamination of our homes, but I believe it can. My home was one of several homes that was recently tested for vapor intrusion of toxic chemicals by the team of experts working with our neighborhood residents as part of this campaign. My home tested positive for vapor intrusion of toxic chemicals including benzene and naphthalene. More tests will need to be done. But from these preliminary tests, it is clear that we have reason to be concerned about the spread of toxic contamination from Ameren’s site, and that we need to fight hard to make sure my neighborhood gets cleaned up all the way, not just part-way. Like anyone else, we deserve to live in a healthy neighborhood, free of toxic contamination.
I have been a part of the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign from its beginning over two years ago. We have worked hard to bring attention to the polluted site and the need for environmental justice – from press conferences on my front lawn, to marches, open houses, and community meetings. We have fought hard for a fair and just clean-up for my neighborhood, and the fight is not over yet.
We need your support for our Campaign now more than ever. We are on our way to changing a City ordinance that allows Ameren to leave in place the highly contaminated groundwater in the neighborhood and below our homes. I’m asking you to please get involved with the Campaign today – sign our petition, attend the City Council Study Session about the groundwater ordinance, or make a donation. You can read more from CCHCC about the toxic site and our Campaign on the following pages. Please help the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign today.
M. D. Pelmore
5th & Hill Neighborhood resident
I am writing to you on behalf of the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign to ask for your participation and financial support for this very important local environmental justice campaign.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) is working with residents of Champaign’s 5th & Hill neighborhood, like Mr. Pelmore, to take on this “David and Goliath” struggle to force Ameren to fully clean up its toxic waste that has contaminated the soil and groundwater throughout the neighborhood. We need your support so that the campaign can change harmful local and state policies that protect corporations’ interests over those of the people and the environment – the same policies that allow Ameren to leave toxic groundwater in place in the 5th & Hill Neighborhood.
The movement of groundwater is a primary way by which toxic chemicals from the Ameren site are spread into the surrounding neighborhood, into and under residents’ homes, and into the Boneyard Creek. Toxic chemicals in the groundwater, such as benzene, can enter people’s homes in the form of vapor, through a process known as “vapor intrusion,” and can poison the air the residents breathe. We have every reason to be concerned that residents’ homes have become contaminated from Ameren’s toxic site and that the City of Champaign’s groundwater ordinance is bad environmental policy that must be changed. Please read on to learn about major new developments in this Campaign, and how you can help.
New developments: Over the past year, the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign has made major advances, including the following:
• Growing the campaign to include hundreds more residents; continuing with twice-monthly meetings in the neighborhood, and distributing a monthly newsletter door-to-door (for an example, see the enclosed June newsletter)
• Working with a team of attorneys and environmental experts, including attorneys from the Kennedy & Madonna law firm (Bobby Kennedy, Jr.’s environmental law firm) and the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm (the law firm that Erin Brockovich works with);
• Conducting preliminary testing of residents’ homes that showed the presence of vapor intrusion of such toxic chemicals as benzene, dichlorobenzene, ethylbenzene, and naphthalene at dangerous levels; and,
• Getting the Champaign City Council to agree to hold a Study Session this fall to consider repealing or amending the City’s groundwater ordinance that, under the IL EPA’s rules, lets Ameren leave polluted groundwater in place, uncleaned, and able to spread toxic chemicals.
“Over the years, my law practice has worked with numerous local non-profit organizations struggling for environmental justice, but rarely have we been as impressed with a local organization as we are with CCHCC."
- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; Kennedy & Madonna, LLP
About the Ameren Toxic Site: The toxic site is owned by Ameren, the power company, and is the site of a former manufactured gas plant. The Ameren toxic site is located at 5th and Hill Streets, in a predominantly low-income, African-American community in northern Champaign. The toxic contamination resulting from this site has been kept a secret from the neighborhood residents for over 20 years , and our Campaign helped to expose the toxic contamination.
The 5th & Hill Neighborhood: Residents of this neighborhood suffer serious unexplained illnesses, experience frequent flooding of their homes and basements, and report bad chemical odors that make them feel sick. The 5th & Hill neighborhood has been historically neglected by the City of Champaign and suffers tremendous infrastructure problems, including poor drainage, sewage problems, and regular basement and surface flooding of the neighborhood. These problems alone are bad enough, but may also increase the likelihood of exposure to contaminated groundwater and soil for neighborhood residents.
About the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign: The residents of this neighborhood are the activists and leaders in the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign that CCHCC is organizing. They are tough, smart and determined to fight for justice, no matter how long it takes. And clearly, this will be a long-haul struggle, given the corporation-friendly attitudes of the government agencies involved and the very close relationships between Ameren and those agencies.
About the clean-up of the toxic site: Ameren is conducting a partial clean-up of the 5th & Hill toxic site. Ameren’s IL EPA-approved clean-up efforts are limited to Ameren removing and replacing toxic soil that is located on its property at 5th & Hill streets. Currently, Ameren has no plans to clean up the toxic chemicals that are in the soil and groundwater in the residential areas, and Ameren refuses to clean-up the toxic groundwater on and off their own property while the IL EPA allows this.
Toxic contamination – how bad is it?
According to Ameren’s own test results of soil and groundwater, the toxic contamination is not just in the soil, but also in the groundwater. Toxic contamination is not only located on Ameren’s property at 5th & Hill Streets, but it has spread into the surrounding neighborhood. Please see a map of the site below showing a small sample of the groundwater test results for chemicals that exceed EPA safety levels.
Also, recent tests of residents’ homes show that toxic chemicals are entering their houses. Preliminary tests show vapor intrusion at unsafe levels of toxic chemicals such as benzene. These toxic chemicals are most likely spread through groundwater as it moves through the neighborhood. Residents of the neighborhood and surrounding areas along the Boneyard Creek have reason to be concerned about whether they may be exposed to toxic contamination from the Ameren site, and to demand that Ameren clean-up the toxic groundwater!
Forcing Ameren to clean-up toxic groundwater – repeal City’s groundwater ordinance: The most urgent struggle within the Campaign right now is the fight to repeal a City of Champaign groundwater ordinance. Under IL EPA’s corporation-friendly rules, this ordinance lets Ameren leave toxic groundwater in place, rather than cleaning it up. This groundwater may be spreading toxic chemicals into residents’ homes and into the Boneyard Creek, which flows through many different communities in Illinois and into Indiana.
The ordinance passed by the Champaign City Council in June 2007 is a “groundwater prohibition ordinance.” Technically, the ordinance prohibits residents from drilling private wells to drink groundwater. However, the ordinance does nothing to physically protect residents from the toxic groundwater when it floods their basements or produces toxic vapors that enter their homes and contaminate the air they breathe. Under the IL EPA’s Site Remediation Program, whenever local governments enact these ordinances, polluting corporations can latch onto these ordinances and use them as their way of “remediating” or “addressing” contamination, rather than coming up with real ways of cleaning up the toxins. If we can repeal or amend this City ordinance so that it does not apply to 5th & Hill area, Ameren will be forced to go back to the IL EPA to work out a new plan for addressing the groundwater contamination. The City of Champaign’s groundwater prohibition ordinance is bad environmental policy and must be changed. The 5th & Hill toxic site highlights the problems with this kind of policy.
“The law offices of Weitz & Luxenberg and Erin Brockovich, who works alongside our attorneys, wish to convey their ardent support for the Champaign County Health Care Consumers. Our firm recognizes the importance of this initiative and applauds the dedication and hard-work CCHCC has committed to this endeavor.”
- Robin Greenwald; Weitz & Luxenberg
Take action! The 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign needs your help! We need your help to make important changes that will improve people’s lives and health, and the environment! The 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign is currently focused on the following goals:
• Get the City of Champaign to repeal or amend the groundwater ordinance that serves as an “institutional control” which, under IL EPA’s rules, allows Ameren to leave the toxic groundwater in place, uncleaned;
• Force the IL EPA to require Ameren to clean up the toxic groundwater;
• Force the IL EPA to require Ameren to start developing plans to clean up toxic residential areas; and,
• Work with the state of IL, including the Governor’s office and state legislators, to review and change the IL EPA’s regulations regarding “institutional controls” such as the groundwater ordinance.
You can help support the Campaign by:
• Adding your name to our petition calling for the repeal of the City’s groundwater ordinance that allows Ameren to leave the toxic groundwater in place;
• Agreeing to attend the Champaign City Council’s Study Session to show your support for repealing or amending the groundwater ordinance – the Study Session is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, September 28, 2010; and,
• Making a financial contribution to help support our ongoing community organizing efforts on this campaign.
I hope you will answer Mr. Pelmore’s request for help with this campaign. With your help, we can achieve environmental justice for the 5th & Hill residents! On behalf of the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign and CCHCC, I thank you for your support.
Claudia Lennhoff, CCHCC Executive Director