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A steady stream of vehicles will flow today into the Interstate Center as McLean County residents take advantage of the Ecology Action Center’s first household hazardous waste collection in nearly five years. A similar event is going on in Champaign County.

This is good. Every little bit helps as we try to protect our health and environment.

Meanwhile, an environmental matter with big potential consequences continues to trickle its way through the government bureaucracy. It involves a private company’s request to store PCB waste at its landfill near Clinton.

PCB stands for polychlorinated biphenyl, a substance once used in manufacturing but banned by the federal government 33 years ago when scientists found it can damage immune, reproductive and nervous systems, even cause cancer.

If Area Disposal Co. gets a green light from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Clinton would likely become the 11th chemical waste landfill that accepts PCBs.

The problem is that its chemical waste area sits atop the Mahomet Aquifer, the main — and frequently the only — source of water (about 85 million gallons a day) for at least 80 Central Illinois communities. Normal gets much of its water from the aquifer. Bloomington hopes to one day, allowing less reliance on its lakes.

Area Disposal promises it can protect the aquifer. The waste area, the size of 17 football fields, is lined with a plastic barrier on top of a layer of clay that separates toxic waste from the aquifer. Once it’s filled, it’s essentially an underground container that would have to be maintained and monitored for perhaps hundreds of years.

In a letter to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, the EPA says it has asked the U.S. Geological Survey to help “assess the likelihood of interconnections” between the landfill and the aquifer. In other words, figure out the chances of leakage. A final report isn’t expected until February.

Some communities want to designate the aquifer as “a sole source aquifer” — official recognition that they rely on it for all of their water. The EPA told Durbin such designations could stiffen regulation of the landfill, but couldn’t stand in the way of approval if other criteria involving soil conditions, hydrology and other things I don’t understand are met.

Here’s what I do understand: Even if all the rules, regulations and criteria are met, it makes no sense to store dangerous waste over a wellspring of water vital to hundreds of thousands of people. This is water we drink, use to bathe our babies, cook our pasta and wash our dishes.

None of the hazardous waste collected today in Bloomington and Champaign will wind up in the Clinton Landfill. Clinton’s not authorized to receive it. But the waste will have to go somewhere, and that’s the rub.

As a society, we must responsibly deal with the leftovers, the hazards and mistakes we produce, even though none of us wants sewage treatment, radioactive waste, a landfill or a crematorium in our back yards.

The fact is we might have to store dangerous substances in a facility close to where we live. But please. Not on top of an essential and abundant source of some of the best water you’ll ever find.

Vogel, of Bloomington, can be reached at vogelgraph@yahoo.com

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