Heavy metals found in Rockton neighborhood groundwater, may not be new


Dr. Sandra Martell points out that the Chemtool site is only part of the Superfund site.

In a news release, the Illinois EPA says it has discovered higher-than-acceptable levels of heavy metals in the groundwater in Rockton's Blackhawk Acres Subdivision. The village's municipal water supply tested fine on June 21, but as many as half the subdivision's residents have private wells, which tap into the groundwater. Most of them may not be using these wells for drinking, or using them at all, since volatile organic compounds (VOCs), were discovered in local groundwater in 1988. But the EPA's announcement gives them a new reason to avoid ingesting this water.

Dr. Sandra Martell, Public Health Administrator at the Winnebago County Health Department, told a media briefing Friday that elevated levels of heavy metals including antimony, cadmium, chromium, and nickel, were found in 16 of 20 test sites (they're called "test wells," which is misleading because nobody drinks out of them). Dr. Martell said, "The major concern for heavy metals is ingestion." Metals particularly affect the kidneys and liver ("organs that detoxify") but can also be deposited in bones. Dr. Martell said, "Exposure depends on how long and how much... If you're a long time resident and you love that well water... you still drink it because it's your favorite taste, you might have more exposure."

After heavy metals were found in the test sites, the Illinois EPA asked nearby residents if they could test their private wells too. Results should be available in days, not weeks, says Dr. Martell. Until then, she said Blackhawk residents shouldn't drink the water. She says they can use the water for laundry or to water their garden, even to rinse out their mouths, but avoid swallowing.

Though the U.S. EPA included all these heavy metals in their list of contaminants of concern for this Superfund site, they only list test results for VOCs. Roscoe News emailed the Illinois EPA before office hours, asking whether they have ever tested for heavy metals, but have not received any response.  However, Dr. Martell points out that no widespread trend of health problems, no epidemic of kidney or liver cancer, has been reported from the Blackhawk subdivision, which is something that public health officials, such as herself, pay attention to. She said that analysis of health trends in an area counts as testing.

Residents may want to pay for their own tests, but Dr. Martell said the water tests are expensive. As far as medical tests, she told Roscoe News that until the water tests come back from private wells, a physician "wouldn't know what to test for." Apparently you can't tell the lab to "just test for everything." Long-term exposure doesn't cause the same noticeable symptoms that might result from short-term heavy metal poisoning. 

The Illinois EPA's Semi-annual Groundwater Monitoring and Recovery System Status Report for the Superfund site, covering the fourth quarter of 2015, focuses on VOCs, saying, "Effluent samples were collected on a monthly basis and analyzed for SW-846 Method 8260B volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Groundwater samples were collected from all the semi-annual and annual groundwater monitoring and extraction wells from October 26-28, 2015, and analyzed for Method 8260B VOCs." It adds that more than 450 pounds of VOCs were removed by their system between July 1996 and December 2015.

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Ironically, though this metal contamination was only discovered after the Chemtool fire, it may not be related. The Blackhawk neighborhood is uphill from Chemtool, and water flows downhill. But volatile organic compounds (VOCs) had already been discovered in local groundwater in 1988, before Chemtool purchased the property in 2008.  The EPA said this pollution came from the 200-acre manufacturing facility of the now-bankrupt Beloit Corporation. The Chemtool factory includes only about 20 acres of this site.  The Beloit Corporation was active in Rockton from 1957 until 1999, according to the EPA's webpage on the subject, so the water may have been contaminated for some time. In 1996 the Beloit Corporation installed a groundwater pump-and-treat system but filed for bankruptcy in 2000. The Illinois EPA began operating the system in 2002 and the EPA and IEPA expanded it in 2008. 

The Illinois EPA's Former Beloit Corporation Superfund website says, "To ensure the homeowners were not drinking contaminated water, carbon treatment units were installed in homes in the Blackhawk Acres Subdivision that had concentrations of trichloroethylene exceeding drinking water standards. In addition, a pump and treatment system is in place as an interim corrective action to clean up the groundwater."

Illinois EPA Sampling Detects Elevated Metals in Groundwater Monitoring Wells at Former Beloit Corporation Superfund Site in Rockton

SPRINGFIELD – State and local officials have confirmed the presence of elevated metals, including antimony, cadmium, chromium, and nickel, in groundwater monitoring wells located at the former Beloit Corporation Superfund site. Groundwater monitoring wells do not serve as drinking water sources for the public. There were no metals found in the municipal water supply for the Village of Rockton which was tested on June 21, 2021. Initial private well sampling will be conducted near the monitoring wells to determine if any private drinking water wells have been impacted.

The groundwater monitoring wells in which the elevated metals were detected are part of the monitoring well network for the former Beloit Corporation Superfund site. The groundwater monitoring wells are used to collect data on the direction of groundwater flow, the geology of the area, and the extent of contamination. The monitoring wells with elevated levels of metals are all located within the Superfund site. Of the 20 monitoring wells sampled, elevated levels of metals were identified in 16 wells.

The samples with the elevated metal results were collected from monitoring wells following the fire at the Chemtool, Inc. facility, which is located on this Superfund site. Metals were not previously contaminants of concern at the Beloit Corp Superfund site. The Illinois EPA is currently evaluating possible sources of the metals contamination but cannot confirm the source or cause of the contamination at this time.

Following the detection of metals in the monitoring wells, Illinois EPA consulted with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Winnebago County Health Department (WCHD) and are coordinating initial sampling of private wells located in close proximity to the monitoring wells with elevated metal detections. The geology of the area is complex, and the proximity to the Rock River can cause variations in the groundwater flow. Private wells may not necessarily be impacted the same as the monitoring wells.

As a precaution, until more testing is conducted to identify and narrow the impacted area, residents that have private wells and live in the Blackhawk neighborhood adjacent to the Chemtool property are recommended at the direction of IDPH and WCHD, to NOT use their private well water for drinking or cooking. Bottled, packaged, or filtered water can be used for drinking, making ice, preparing infant formula, and cooking. Once results from the initial sampling of private wells are finalized, Illinois EPA, IDPH and WCHD will determine next steps if additional sampling is needed.

It is expected that a majority of residents are not using their private well water as drinking water. During the Beloit Corp Superfund Site Remedial Investigation, Illinois EPA funded the installation and maintenance of carbon filter treatment units for residences in the Blackhawk Acres Subdivision to ensure residents are not exposed to drinking water which may pose health risks. A majority of those residences connected to the Village of Rockton community water supply and should no longer be using their private well water for drinking water. However, IDPH and WCHD will provide Illinois EPA with technical support and local information on private wells still being used by residents.

While some metals are essential nutrients, exposure to high levels can cause a variety of health concerns depending on the metal. Health interpretation of results collected on private property will be provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health directly to property owners.

Illinois EPA has posted the final groundwater monitoring well sample data on the Agency’s website for both the Illinois EPA's Former Beloit Corporation Superfund information
and the Chemtool page.

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