Community / News / September 29, 2010

Hazardous waste a potential threat

Grab your gas masks. Knox students may be subjected to toxic chemicals—other than the occasional dope overdose—according to an ongoing lawsuit filed by local business owner Rex Carlson.

Hidden along the train tracks in downtown Galesburg is a volcanic, hazardous waste site, containing chemicals harmful to human health and the environment. Evidence generated by the lawsuit confirms that the known toxins – including, arsenic, cyanide, lead, mercury, cadmium and copper – hold the potential to be physically damaging the Carlson family’s health, the surrounding environment and other Galesburg residents, including Knox students.

“…Reports show that the contamination extends offsite, which impacts not just us but others in Galesburg,” said the plaintiff, Carlson, in a press release.

“Any time you have contaminants in a community, they’re going to disperse. They’re going to disperse when it rains; they’re going to disperse when it’s windy,” said Environmental Science Professor Peter Schwartzman, who only recently became aware of the contaminated site.

The owners of the former Ameren Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) site—Ethel Carlson and her son Rex—filed the lawsuit against Ameren requesting that the corporation clean up the hazardous waste material and toxins produced from previous gas manufacturing operations nearly two months ago. The lawsuit, still ongoing, has generated little, if any, progressive action.

The 2.6 acre contaminated MGP site, which is located at 151 West Ferris St. – less than half a mile from Knox College – is currently used as a local snow removal business, owned and operated by Rex Carlson. Carlson, who requires the ability to move dirt at the old MPG site in order to run an efficient and successful business, has been forced to put these operations on hold because of the threats that they pose to the environment and human health. Furthermore, Ameren’s lack of cooperation and initiative further prevents the Carlsons from selling the property to developers.

Ameren, who admits that the site contains hazardous waste, pledged to the public that they would clean up the toxic chemicals last October, nearly a year ago. However, the project was put on hold due to financial complications; a company memorandum was published by Ameren’s engineering firm regarding the possibility of a “lesser clean-up,” which would essentially result in the company saving up to seven million dollars.

Students and the people of Galesburg should be concerned, according to James Brusslan, the Carlsons’ attorney.

“Massive amounts of contamination are just sitting there,” said Brusslan. “Certainly [the hazardous waste] is going to get into the groundwater. Who knows where it is going to go from there?”

None of the Knox students interviewed for thoughts and reactions regarding the contaminated site were aware that the site even existed, let alone posed a potential threat to their health.

“I hope this gets resolved soon because that’s my favorite part of town,” said sophomore Julius Parod.

Jenneke Oostman

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