A chemical breach threatened water safety to humans and animals, forcing current owners to finish cleanup at the former Koppers site. 
Water near Koppers plant. (Left to right: water overflowing from past site boundaries, Koppers site location, waterway that flows behind residential property throughout the northeast side, and Glade creek close to the site and more homes). Photos by Clarissa Cowley.
According to the United States Environmental Protection agency, creosote may pose risks to fish and railroad structures made from creosote-treated wood. 
The city of Carbondale allegedly received compensation for the damage of fish deaths in a pond bordering the plant due to chemicals spilling off from the site included in three separate incidents in 1968. 
Despite rumors of the city and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) receiving payment for the fish kill circulated throughout the community near the Koppers site, both entities have no payment record.  
According to the IDNR mission statement, the INDR aims to manage, conserve and protect Illinois’ natural, recreational and cultural resources, further the public’s understanding and appreciation of those resources, and promote the education, science and public safety of Illinois’ natural resources for present and future generations. 
Jennifer Sorrell, city clerk who responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request through email, said she checked with city manager Gary Williams, city finance director Jeffery Davis and city attorney Jamie Snyder about the allegation.  
“While there are certainly records relating to Koppers in the city archives…none of the city administration is aware that the city would have received funds relating to fish deaths,” Sorrell said.  
Sorrell said she also checked through the indexes for minutes, resolutions, ordinances, but there was no reference to fish deaths. 
According to an IDNR FOIA request response, no such records exist in their agency about alleged compensation received by the city. 
The cause of the fish deaths traces to an overflow of an on-site lagoon property. 
A memo from the Koppers Inc. about the lagoon breach and cleanup measures. Document courtesy of Mike Slenska.
History of Koppers  
The Ayer and Lord Tie company formerly owned the Koppers site, who bought the land in 1902 on the northeast side of Carbondale, Illinois, to create a wood-treating plant for railroad tie manufacturing. 
The plant intended to serve the Illinois Central Railroad, was built to have a capacity 25 percent larger than any other similar plant in the entire world.  
According to Science Direct, an environmental database, Koppers also became one of the world’s largest creosote treatment plants.  
According to an Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) assessment completed in 2001 under the Agency for Toxic Disease and Substance Registry (ATDSR), this data made it no surprise that creosotes visibly contaminated soils at the site. 
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), creosote can contaminate soil or water and move from ground to groundwater.  
“Groundwater is water found underground in cracks and spaces in soil, sand, and rocks,” the CDC said.  

“After creosote gets into groundwater, it may take many years to break down.” 

The assessment also said contamination at the site included phenols, pentachlorophenol (PCP), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). 
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), phenol is mildly acidic, requiring careful handling because it can cause chemical burns to humans.  
Long-term effects cause autonomic nerve damage producing an inability to sense chest pain, such as angina or heart attack. Short-term effects cause excess sweating or limited sweating, lightheadedness, dry eyes, and mouth, the Institute reported. 
The assessment said limited soil removal activities occurred at the site in 1991 for a pond and Glade creek where a run-off occurred and operation ceased, but much of the contamination remains on site. 
Koppers fixed lagoon breach 
When Koppers abandoned the lagoon system, they generated more wastewater than they could transport and store.  
Hence, they evaporated wastewater into the atmosphere by heating it in open-topped tanks.  
Mike Slenska, environmental manager for Beazer East Inc., said the Illinois EPA (IEPA) indicates the lagoon closures may have been part of a transition to a new wastewater treatment system according to a Koppers memorandum about the breach. 
This procedure involved oil, water separation, and an activated sludge component based on biological treatment. 
The proposed wastewater treatment program. Document courtesy of Mike Slenska.
According to Britannica, wastewater is the polluted form of water generated from rainwater runoff and human activities. 
An ASAOC formalizes an agreement between the USEPA and one or more potentially responsible parties, Koppers and their successors Beazer East Inc. 
The USEPA uses ASAOCs for removal activity or short-term cleanups, remedial investigation and feasibility studies, and remedy design work, according to the USEPA.  
“Koppers had to perform a remedial investigation to determine the nature and extent of any releases of hazardous waste from the facility,” according to the USEPA. 
According to the memorandum provided by Slenska for this report, lagoon number one was emptied by 1988, with lagoon number two emptied by mid-June of that same year.
The third lagoon contained boiler cooling water sent to a spray field, according to the memo. 
Lagoon four, which contained treated wastewater, was emptied into the spray field, according to the memo. 
According to Law Insider, a contract database and resource center, spray fields are specified areas that have treated waste, agricultural, domestic wastewater, sewage, and industrial sludge applied to the land.  
The memorandum also said scientists gathered two soil samples from each lagoon’s bottom and observed where black staining and small amounts of discolored water were inside the lagoons.   
The wastewater ran from the oil and water separator directly to the activated sludge plant.  
The heated storage tank then received treated water pumped from the plant to promote evaporation. 
Slenska said the IEPA memo also offers some information concerning the heated storage tank mentioned in the Process Hazard Analysis (PHA), suggesting that tank usage was temporary. 
The memo said that the sludge was shipped to Peoria Disposal Company, which received 248 loads of sludge in 1988 from the lagoon fix. 
After these completed procedures, the Carbondale Treatment plant set up a monitoring and disposal station to avoid further contamination. 
Chemical release put Glade Creek at risk   
The IDPH assessment said heavy rains caused a breach of the lagoon berm, spilling wastewater, creosote, and sludge into an off-site spill area and Glade Creek. 
Glade Creek

Glade Creek is about 0.7-mile or two minutes away from the site located at 1555 North Marion St. 

Beazer East Inc., who succeeded Koppers in 1988, is now responsible for the finished cleanup procedures and monitoring Glade Creek after the lagoon fix. 
Under the decree, Beazer East Inc. emptied a small, polluted pond west of Glade Creek and filled it with clean soil, according to a community fact sheet distributed in 2005.   
Beazer East Inc. also replaced a 1,500-foot polluted stretch of Glade Creek with a new creek.  
Beazer East Inc. created this creek in a clean area 450-feet east of its original location on the Koppers’ property, where creosote spilled.  
Koppers also installed a grout blanket in the creek bed to control the shallow contaminated groundwater discharging into Glade Creek. 
The grout blanket is about 700-feet long and 30-feet wide, extending from bank to bank, according to the assessment.   
The grout blanket collects and conveys the groundwater visibly contaminated with creosote periodically to a material collection maintenance hole, according to the assessment. 
According to the IDPH assessment, collected material gets on-site treatment in the activated sludge wastewater treatment plant. 
Glade Creek flows through the western portion of the site, around the northern edge, and past the site’s eastern end, according to the assessment. 
Crab Orchard Lake separate incident 
According to the assessment, the accidental releases of creosote products have reportedly resulted in off-site contamination of a Crab Orchard sediment in 1962.
All the little dirt particles that sink to the bottom of a pond are an example of sediment, according to a dictionary reference. 
“Creosote is actually a mixture of 200 to 400 compounds whose composition varies from batch to batch,” the environmental database said. 
According to the USEPA, the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge site, under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service agency (FWS), experienced elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). 
PCBs are industrial chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and pentachlorophenol (PCP). 
According to the Mayo Clinic, a foundation for medical education and research, PCBs could pose serious health risks to people who frequently eat contaminated fish. 
“PCBs have been shown to cause adverse health effects, including cancers, and negative impact on the immune, nervous and endocrine systems,” the Mayo clinic said.  
In 1987, the USEPA placed Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge on their National Priority List, also known as the Superfund list, due to environmental contamination. 

According to the IDPH assessment, the Big Muddy River receives water from the Crab Orchard.   

Big Muddy River is approximately 10.2 miles or 18 minutes away from Crab Orchard Lake.  
The assessment found no human exposure risk due to tests conducted in other possible contamination pathways.

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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