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MONTICELLO — Discussion of legislation to make it harder for landfills to win permits to store chemical waste over the Mahomet Aquifer drew a standing-room-only crowd Thursday in a Piatt County Farm Bureau conference room.

The proposed disposal of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) waste at Clinton Landfill’s chemical waste unit has sparked fear of contamination of the aquifer, a drinking water source for communities in 15 Central Illinois counties, including McLean and DeWitt counties. PCBs, dumped into the Great Lakes by the ton in decades past, have been found to cause long-term environmental and health problems.

“Nobody wants (landfills) in their backyard, but we have to have them to contain the waste our communities generate,” said Chris Coulter, vice president of Area Disposal, a subsidiary of landfill owner Peoria Disposal Co., at the meeting. “We’re trying to contain the PCBs and get them out of the uncontrolled environment they persist in. We aren’t going to jeopardize the health of the community for a profit.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency delayed the permit approval process in April for more hydrogeological testing, which was expected to take several months, but a proposed state law would add another layer to the process.

Republican state Reps. Chapin Rose of Mahomet, Bill Mitchell of Forsyth and Dan Brady of Bloomington, have sponsored legislation that would require permit approval by every community that sits above the aquifer. The special House Environmental Health Committee meeting in Monticello addressed the bill.

“Overwhelmingly the citizens of DeWitt County don’t want (PCB disposal),” Mitchell said, referring to a 2008 advisory referendum in which 75 percent of ballots were against the PCB disposal.  “The frustration … of the citizens is that their voices aren’t being heard by the state of Illinois or the federal government.”

Coulter said his company would take all necessary steps to safeguard the environment while disposing of harmful chemical waste, but several civic leaders went on record as supporting the bill and opposing PCB disposal above the aquifer. They included Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady and Sally Heffernan assistant to the Normal city manager.

“There’s no viable, adequate, alternate source of drinking water for the town if the Mahomet would become undrinkable,” Heffernan said.

The town of Normal could need as much as 4 million gallons of water a day from the Mahomet Aquifer, but currently it draws only about a third of that, she said. The rest comes from shallower, in-town wells, which could not supply all of the town’s needs.

McCrady said Decatur has an interest in the aquifer’s long-term viability as a water source even though it doesn’t directly draw water from it.

“Lake Decatur is our primary source, but when we are in a drought, like we are now, we have an eight-pump well field that draws from the Mahomet Aquifer in DeWitt County,” McCrady said. “We pump nearly 20 million gallons a day out of the aquifer.”

House Bill 6153 remains in committee.

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