BACKGROUND AND STATEMENT OF ISSUES
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) requested that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) review the historical and environmental data available to determine if a public health threat exists at the Matheson Gas Products, Inc. (Matheson Gas) site. Matheson Gas is an active facility that repackages and distributes high purity gases and manufactures carbon monoxide (1). The facility was placed on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Information System (CERCLIS) list in November 1988 due to a request for discovery action initiated by IEPA.
Under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection agency (USEPA), IEPA conducted a preliminary assessment (PA) in September 1989, and a screening site inspection (SSI) in June 1991. During the SSI, IEPA collected groundwater samples and soil samples on and off the site (2). Another PA was completed on December 28, 1993, as the first step in the process of ranking facilities for corrective actions. IEPA did a visual site inspection on January 5, 1994. In 1995, IEPA conducted a site team evaluation prioritization visit and collected groundwater, soil, and sediment samples on and off the site (3).
Matheson Gas is at Manhattan Road and Richards Street in Joliet, Will County, Illinois (Attachment 1). It occupies 5.44 acres in an industrial and residential area. Only about 3 acres of land are usable because the remaining 2.44 acres are subjected to seasonal flooding. The facility is bordered on the north by Will County Farm Services; on the east by Richards Street, which ends at the facility; on the south by a residential area and Sugar Run Creek; and on the west by a wooded area (Attachment 2). Industrialized areas are immediately east and northeast of the facility, and wooded areas are immediately south, west, and north. Beyond these wooded areas are residential areas. A wire fence exists on the east and north side of the property, with a locked gate on the east side. The site contains administrative buildings and a loading dock for deliveries, a quarry pond on the southeast part, and a tar pit on the northwest corner of the property.
Matheson Gas has operated at the facility since 1946 and employs about 26 people. Activities began at the site in 1891 when Kirkpatrick, Howk, Massey Stone Company used the area for its quarry operations. The quarrying continued until 1911 when they sold the property to the Joliet Oil Refining Company (Joliet Oil). A 1924 Sanborn fire insurance map shows that several oil tanks, several stills, two pump houses, and a boiler house were present at the site. The property changed owners but continued to be used as an oil refinery until 1946 when Matheson Gas, then a division of Searle, bought the property.
While the property was an oil refinery, the refinery waste was deposited in at least one old quarry pit. An on-site pit, measuring about 125 feet by 30 feet with an unknown depth, contains viscous, petroleum, tar-like waste. This is the "tar pit" (SWMU-8) where Matheson Gas shares the property boundaries with two other property owners. A solid waste management unit (SWMU) is a discernable unit in which solid wastes have been placed and from which hazardous materials might migrate. Adjacent areas also contained viscous petroleum tar-like waste, and Matheson Gas filled some of them to expand operations. In June 1988 a dog became trapped in SWMU-8, and although it was eventually freed, the dog reportedly died of exposure to conditions in the pit.
Matheson Gas could not provide specific information regarding waste generation and disposal at the site before 1946. During the 1960s, Matheson Gas disposed of scrap cylinders west and north of the quarry pond (SWMU-7) in the cylinder disposal area (SWMU-5). The quarry pond measures about 140x100 feet, with the deepest point at 15 feet. Also, small gas cylinders could have been disposed in SWMU-7. The cylinders may have contained phosgene, chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, and nitrogen dioxide. Matheson Gas has never had any underground storage tanks on the facility's property.
Matheson Gas has more than 100 gases on the site that can be repackaged in different size cylinders to meet the need of customers. They rent the cylinders to the customers, along with any associated gas handling equipment. When customers return the rented cylinders to Matheson Gas, each may contain 1 to 2 percent of remnant gas. The cylinders are cleaned and reused as needed. Currently Matheson Gas does not generate any hazardous waste for off-site treatment or disposal. Nonhazardous wastes generated at the facility include remnant gas, scrubber effluent waste, wastewater, spent filters, and scrap cylinders.
Remnant gas is what is left over in tanks and cylinders that are returned. The excess gas is removed under vacuum from the returned cylinders. About 3,000 pounds of remnant gas are generated each month. To neutralize the remnant gas, they inject it into an acidic or caustic solution and then trickle it through the scrubber unit (SWMU-2) for mixing. This process generates a scrubber effluent waste that is either piped to the waste liquids room (SWMU-1) for reuse, or stored in two, 5,000-gallon tanks within the former hazardous waste storage area (SWMU-3) on the western part of the facility. Solutions in SWMU-1 are used until they are no longer effective and then are piped to SWMU-3. The facility generates about 15,000 gallons of scrubber effluent waste each year, which is carried off the site as nonhazardous waste. The remnant gas is hydrocarbon-based and is vented to the thermal oxidizer (SWMU-4) for incineration. SWMU-4 does not generate any ash or other debris.
Wastewater is generated from cylinder washing operations, cylinder hydrostatic testing, and cooling water. It contains high concentrations of iron solids. The wash and hydrostatic testing waters are filtered in the waste liquids room to remove iron solids. This water is then combined with the cooling water before it is discharged into the facility's quarry pond. About 800 gallons of wastewater are discharged each day. Spent filters are generated during this part of the process and are replaced 1 to 3 times each week. The nonhazardous spent filters are discarded in the facility's dumpster (SWMU-9), along with general refuse. Waste Management, Inc., transports this combined waste to one of its landfills.
Scrap cylinders that fail the hydrostatic test are rendered useless and placed in the scrap cylinder accumulation area (SWMU-6). About 2 tons of scrap cylinders are generated each year, and the company sells the scrap to metal recyclers. In the past, the facility disposed of these scrap cylinders in the cylinder disposal area and, possibly, in the quarry pond. No records were found as to whether the scrap cylinders disposed in SWMU-5 and SMWU-7 were emptied before disposal.
The facility is within a 100-year flood plain. The tar pit, the quarry pond, and Sugar Run Creek are approximately 10 feet lower than most of the facility and are not designed to withstand a flood. The nearest surface water body, Sugar Run Creek, is on the facility property. It flows west and then north for about 1 mile from the facility where it discharges to the Des Plaines River. Des Plaines River is used for recreational purposes only, with no surface water intakes within 15 miles downstream of the facility. Surface water runoff probably flows south or west from the facility where it enters a wooded area and then flows into Sugar Run Creek. On a larger scale, surface drainage is toward the Des Plaines River that is approximately 1 mile west of the facility.
Residents in the Matheson Gas area use groundwater from either private wells or public water supplies. Private and public drinking water wells in this area, other than the Joliet municipal wells, draw water from a shallow aquifer called the Silurian dolomite aquifer. An aquifer consists of rock or rock materials that are sufficiently permeable to conduct groundwater and to yield sufficient quantities of water to wells and springs. Private wells range from 50 to 340 feet deep, and public wells range from 50 to 360 feet deep. The Joliet municipal wells obtain water from the hydrologically connected rocks called the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer system at depths between 1,400 and 1,700 feet.
If groundwater flows in the direction of local topographic features, regional groundwater flow would be toward the Sugar Run Creek and the Des Plaines River. Groundwater from the tar pit would flow in a westward direction, while groundwater from the quarry pond would flow south.
Children have played in the west and south wooded areas next to the property. Sugar Run Creek and Des Plaines River are used for recreational purposes. According to a facility representative, the quarry pond is used for recreational fishing, but no one eats the fish. Groundwater is used as an industrial, municipal, and private water supply. The nearest drinking water well is on the facility property and can be used for drinking by the employees at the facility. Approximately 20 public water supply systems and 674 private wells tap the Silurian Dolomite aquifer and serve 7,169 residents within a 4-mile radius of the site. This total does not include industrial and commercial wells that may supply water to employees. The closest public supply well is less than 0.25 miles north of the facility in the Clearview subdivision. No wellhead protection areas exist near the site.
Sensitive environments within a 15-mile downstream distance of the site include a state wildlife refuge and state-designated habitats used by threatened and endangered species.
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On March 20, 1997, IDPH staff visited the site with the Matheson Gas branch manager. A locked gate on the east side and a wire fence on the east and north sides of the property restrict access to the property. "DANGER -- KEEP OUT" sign was posted on both the north and southeast borders of the fence. Administrative buildings and the covered dock for deliveries were on the right side of the entrance gate. The quarry pond was on the left side upon entry. Trees and bushes surrounded the pond, but the pond was not fenced. A pile of empty wood boxes and racks of scrap cylinders were in the dumpster area. Scrap cylinders contained in metal rails were also in the scrap cylinders accumulation area. The tar pit was in the upper northwestern corner of the property and was double-fenced by a wooden fence near the pit and a cyclone fence outside it. The wooden fence was about 2.5-3 feet high, and the cyclone fence was about 6 feet high. Both fences were inclined, making them easy to climb, approximately 20 to 30 degrees toward the pit on its south border. The area was besieged with heavy rain and wind two days before the site visit, so gullies and broken branches were on the ground in the wooded areas. A "NO TRESPASSING" sign was posted on the southern border of the site along Sugar Run Creek.
The facility has had no compliance problems in the past but has a history of odor complaints from area residents. Local residents have complained of odors coming from the open surface of the tar pit and from an oil-like substance reportedly present in residential water supplies. During the SSI, a photo-ionization detector with a 11.7 eV lamp was used to determine the presence of certain airborne contaminants, but no readings above background levels were observed. In January 1997, IDPH staff collected samples of unfiltered water from a residential water supply of a home approximately 400 feet south of Matheson Gas and found no contaminants of health concern. IDPH recommended no changes in the use of residential water supply (4).