Natural Resources

Fall 2011 Natural Resources Law Class at UB

Reimbursement ordered for Wauconda Landfill Remedial Measures November 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — murrama @ 1:54 pm

A final resolution was reached in an over 30 year debacle involving the defunct Wauconda Landfill in Illinois. Wells Manufacturing, a company engaged in the production of low-medium grades of carbon steel and cast iron was ordered to reimburse the government for detoxifying the site when it failed to comply with a consent decree. This result came after an investigation revealed the capped landfill was leaching chemical contaminants such as arsenic and carcinogenic vinyl chloride into groundwater. The landfill was initially closed and capped in 1979. However, the site was placed on the National Priorities List pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act (CERCLA). In this action, Wells was named as one of several potentially responsible parties (PRPs). It was thereby ordered to comply with the government’s ensuing management procedures.  In addition, a consent decree was formed between the PRPs in which they agreed to reimburse the government for certain past clean up measures. The plan appeared to be effective until health department officials revealed that vinyl chloride persisted in well water near the site. The government settled payment matters with the other members to the decree but Wells for some reason failed to participate in negotiations. Hence, this ruling by the judge was essentially a judgment compelling compliance.

I find this story interesting for two reasons. First, it illustrates the various complexities  pertaining to  water quality regulation. The government discovered the first episode of groundwater contamination in 1979.It was at this time that the decision was made to cap the landfill and Afterwards, however, there had to be numerous investigations to insure the site was indeed free of risk. The whole process seemed to  be a tremendous expenditure of resources for both the government and the Illinois state health department. (which in this case was the party that discovered the subsequent cases of vinyl chloride). One wonders whether such resources were used in the best way possible. After all, groundwater contamination was still found some 20 years later.  

Secondly, when the vinyl chloride was discovered again in 2004, residents were told to drink bottled water as opposed to regular tap water. This is ironic because bottled water has often been criticized as unfit for drinking. Not only have there been cases where manufacturers have filled bottled water with plain tap water but many in the scientific community have warned that the chemicals making plastic bottles pliable, (the polychlorinated biphenyl’s) may leach from the container directly into the water. Granted, the solution ot this would be to use glass bottles as is done in European countries. However, does the average American consumer think this far when they hear such a message from health officials. In my opinion, there was not much recourse, legally of otherwise  for the residents living near this landfill. ..Just a thought.

Chicago Tribune’s 2004 reporting of water contamination

The EPA’s description of this region 5 superfund site is found here

The judge’s order enforcing the consent decree


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