Cleanup procedures taking place on the former Koppers plant site in late-February. Photo from the Hazardous Waste Cleanup latest updates.


Northeast community members continue to mistrust waste cleanups near their homes by a chemical manufacturing company and oversight of government entities following historically unsafe handling.  
Koppers Incorporated., located in Carbondale, Illinois, serviced the Illinois Railroad system and employed a predominantly African American workforce until its closure in 1991 after detection of toxins on site boundaries.  
A breach of hazardous chemicals, including creosote, overflowed into a nearby lagoon which compromised Glade Creek and soil in 1986, according to an Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) assessment. 
The black men who worked for the plant inhaled soot and dripped wet from carrying creosote-covered railroad ties, and several of them allegedly suffered bodily harm and death. 
These incidents live on in a small minority of the community aware of allegedly negligent waste and racist workforce management practices since 1932. 
Decades long cleanup 
When initial cleanup procedures began addressing the lagoon breach, rather than abandoning the site, Koppers Inc. sold a portion of its business to Beazer East Incorporated., a privately owned environmental management office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  
Beazer East Inc. redevelops brownfields, property complicated by the presence of hazardous substances, into a sustainable energy business. 
Beazer East Inc. has conducted cleanups of the polluted soils on the site dating back to 1991 under the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), which oversaw the process of corrective actions mandated by the U. S. Congress. 
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) law, enacted in 1976, requires current owners of toxic sites to use corrective action procedures to investigate, treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste, according to the USEPA. 
During that investigation, Beazer East Inc. addressed soil on 16-acres and uncovered an additional 15.8-acres of earth contaminated with dioxin and furan on the site in 2019, according to a Hazardous Waste Cleanup update by the EPA. 
Legacy of suspicion 
Clarissa Cowley, a journalism graduate student, studying in the College of Media Arts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, conducted a small survey to community members that showed 66.7 percent of residents are suspicious of or concerned about the entire cleanup process.  
Beazer East Inc. allegedly did not notify several residents about the latest cleanup completed in 2020 until a news reporter published a story by the Southern Illinoisan provided details. 

More than 80 percent of the survey respondents said no to whether they received notification of the latest cleanup procedures.  

Marilyn Tipton, who lives at 310 E. Burke St.that borders the site, participated in the survey. She said she received a newsletter from the USEPA but was not made aware of the cleanup launch from Beazer East Inc. or the city of Carbondale, Illinois. 
“But when it started, they didn’t tell us anything,” Tipton said.  
Tipton also said government officials found out about the cleanup the same way the community did. 
“They got the news the same day that the reporter did, which didn’t give them the time to notify the residents,” Tipton said.  
Tipton said the community was worried and complained about the noise cleanup procedures would bring to their area. 
“Normally, the city would just send a letter and this time they just showed up with all that noise,” Tipton said.  
Tipton said she thinks proper notification would have given her enough time to ensure she would not be home when construction crews operated.  
Beazer East Inc. says they notified the community 
According to a 2019 newsletter, Beazer East Inc. and the USEPA offered public participation opportunities by notifying residents to submit comments about the cleanup procedures at a public meeting before the start date. 
A public meeting was held at city hall to discuss the Explanation of Significant Difference (ESD) and unavoidable construction noise caused by the cleanup.  
According to the responses-to-comment report included in the ESD, a citizen commented that the community requested a mailing to individuals in the neighborhood before the cleanup began and be made aware of the inconvenience of the cleanup procedures. 
Mike Slenska, environmental manager for Beazer East Inc., said that on October 7, 2020, one week before work began, Beazer emailed Gary Williams, city manager, of the upcoming cleanup work. 
In 2020, the USEPA issued a news release notifying the public of the start of the cleanup, Slenska said.  
“In addition, in the 18 plus months leading up to the start of construction, USEPA issued several public notices, held a meeting inviting public comment, and advised the public that additional on-site remediation would be necessary,” Slenska said. 

Noise associated with such a project is unavoidable, but construction did work in compliance with allowable work hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. per Carbondale City Code 14-4-7E.14. 

According to the city of Carbondale, City Code 14-4-7E.14 refers to sound devices and general noise restrictions where a boundary line meets any public right of way for streets, sidewalks, or alleys between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.  
A citizen also said the community is concerned trucks would drive along Marion St., a residential area, which will pose a health hazard. 
The USEPA said trucks leaving the site would not go towards the residential area. 
The USEPA also said the construction was done solely on-site, and truck traffic would not increase. 
Continued frustration  
Despite these efforts by Beazer East Inc. and the USEPA to communicate with the nearby community regarding the cleanup of toxins near their homes, several residents still worry. 
Tipton and other residents think disturbance of the land on the Koppers site would expose them to toxins. 

Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they or someone in their family was diagnosed with a respiratory illness. 


More than 80% of respondents said they or someone in their family was diagnosed with cancer while living near the Koppers site.  


Tipton was among 66.7% of respondents who said they thought they were exposed or are currently being exposed to contamination from water, soil, and air pollution during the cleanup.  

Slenska said the generation of airborne dust from excavation, hauling, and grading of soils is unavoidable. 
“Consistent with the USEPA-approved remedial design, measures were implemented during the remedial construction to minimize dust generation to the extent possible,” Slenska said. 
These measures included following established speed limits on site haul roads, spraying water on haul roads, and tarping soil hauling trucks.  
Slenska also said the crew conducted air monitoring throughout the remediation project along the southern site boundary, where Tipton’s home is located in the residential area, to measure airborne dust and volatile organic compound concentrations.  
“No sustained action level exceedances were measured during the project,” Slenska said.  
Discrepancy in soil sampling 
A citizen said they wanted neighborhood soil testing for new contamination of dioxin and furan, despite residential tests that concluded no human exposure risk to creosote and other contaminants. 
Slenska said Arcadis Incorporated, an environmental consultant for Beazer East Inc., completed soil testing in residential areas south of the site for dioxins and furans. 

Tipton was also among over 80 percent of respondents who said they or someone in their family did not have the soil on their property tested for contamination allegedly linked to Kopper’s site pollution.  

Tipton said Beazer East Inc. asked to conduct soil testing on her property to locate toxins that may have migrated from the site but never did the test. 
Tipton said she sent in the paperwork to Beazer East Inc., who also asked for proof of residence, the death record of Charles Brown, her father, who was a former Koppers worker and took off work herself.  
“Then the day before the testing they called me and told me they weren’t going to do me,” Tipton said.  
Tipton said Beazer East Inc. returned her documents and notified her they found a residential property closer to the site to conduct soil testing.  
The red marker on the left denotes where the Koppers southern border fence is located. The red marker on the right denotes where the residential property of Marilyn Tipton is located.
Slenska said Beazer East Inc. and Arcadis Inc. identified Tipton’s property as an alternate location for sample A1-59 collected in August 2012 as a third soil sampling test separate from 2005 and 2006.  
“Because Beazer was able to obtain access from the initially targeted sample location just north of Ms. Tipton’s, closer to the site, collection of a sample from the alternate location on Ms. Tipton’s property was not necessary,” Slenska said. 
Beazer East Inc. conducted cleanup efforts at the Koppers site under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Corrective Action program, not the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) known as the Superfund program.  
Site monitoring will be for the next 30 years before Beazer East Inc., or the city can use it for sustainable business.  

Published by Clarissa Cowley

Claire is a Master of Science in Professional Media and Media Management graduate student with a specialization in multimedia journalism. She currently teaches web publishing, media arts performance and introduction to media production. She is a student managing editor of the GJR weekly digital newsletter reaching over 2,000 online subscribers. She is conducting research on an environmental and racial justice issue in Carbondale, IL for her thesis project.

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