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HEALTH CONSULTATION

UNION MECHLING COMPANY
SENECA, GRUNDY COUNTY, ILLINOIS


BACKGROUND AND STATEMENT OF ISSUES

The Union Mechling site, also known as the National Marine Facility, is south of Old Stage Road along the Illinois River, Seneca, Illinois, in west central Grundy County (northwest quarter of Section 30, Township 33 North, Range 6 East). The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reviewed, at the request of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), the historical and environmental data available to determine if a public health threat exists at the site. Concentrations of hazardous compounds have been identified in soil, sediment, and groundwater. The site was placed on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act Information System List (CERCLIS) in 1989 (1).

The site occupies approximately 66 acres in a rural, unincorporated area east of Seneca. The Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific rail line borders the west side of the site. Old Stage Road and an operating automotive salvage, towing, and repair shop are approximately 0.25 miles north of the site, and the Illinois River flows along the east and south sides of the site. Land in the area is generally used for light industrial, agricultural, and recreational purposes. Brewer Wood Treatment and Lumberyard lies just beyond the rail line. The Illinois River is used for fishing, boating, water skiing, commercial barge transport, and is an important flyway for migratory waterfowl (2). The Seneca Hunt Club is north of the site across Old Stage Road. No residences, schools, or day care facilities are within a 0.25 mile radius of the site. Although no wetlands are on the site, the U.S. Department of the Interior National Wetland Inventory Maps show several wetland areas within a 4-mile radius of the site (2).

Until 1941, the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company owned the site and constructed barges. In 1941, John I. Hay Company purchased the facility from the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company and continued to construct barges. From 1949 until 1963, Prairie States Corporation (also known as Prairie States Oil and Grease Company) leased the land from the John I. Hay Company. Prairie States bought and sold oil, grease, antifreeze, brake fluids, chemicals, and other automobile products. In 1963, Al Mechling Barge Lines, Incorporated, bought the facility from the John I. Hay Company and entered into a lease with Prairie States. Prairie States continued operations at the site until 1967 when the company assigned its interest and lease to F.S. Royster Guano Company. The Royster Company produced fertilizer and agricultural chemicals at the site until 1976 (2).

Al Mechling Barge Lines merged and became the Union Mechling Corporation in 1973. The Royster Company sold all equipment and other fixtures to Jon T. Chemicals in 1976, who then leased the property from Union Mechling. Jon T. Chemicals operated at the facility from 1976 to the early 1980s as a warehouse for dry and liquid agricultural chemicals. Since then, National Marine Corporation purchased the property and are the current owners. Currently, an automotive repair and salvage yard is north of the inactive site. Some controversy exists about whether the automotive repair and salvage yard is part of the National Marine Corporation property (2).

No file information is available to indicate whether the facility was regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) or IEPA while it was open. Westinghouse-Haztech Inc. (under contract with IEPA) conducted a Phase I site investigation in June 1989. The investigators discovered numerous buried and above ground drums stored on the site. IEPA's Immediate Removal Unit hired a contractor to excavate test pits for sampling. Twelve buried drums were found in excavations between 6 inches and 3 feet deep in an area east of the covered lagoon. At that time, the drums were excavated, overpacked, and left on site. The investigators also collected 13 soil samples, 2 asbestos samples, and 1 drum sample (3).

IEPA collected groundwater and soil samples at and near the site during a March 1991 Screening Site Inspection (SSI). Subsequently, IEPA's Site Assessment Unit conducted a Site Inspection Prioritization (SIP) in June 1995 in which soil and sediment samples were collected. The reconnaissance inspection revealed that the site was littered with tires and 55-gallon drums. The buildings that remained standing were in a state of disrepair and were being used to store a variety of waste materials. These waste materials included tires, overpacked drums, and hundreds of empty cans of automotive products (2). USEPA contracted Ecology and Environment, Inc., to conduct a site assessment at the site in March 1996. The site assessment included collection of soil and lagoon sludge samples. Areas of stained, unvegetated soil were also identified on the eastern portion of the site (5). The remaining buildings were razed during the fall of 1996, and the concrete and some dirt were removed from the site.

Regional IDPH staff visited the site on March 20, 1997. An access road behind and adjacent to the automotive repair and salvage yard leads to the site. A chain-locked gate prevents unauthorized vehicles from driving on the site. However, the site is not entirely fenced, so it is easily accessible to trespassers walking along the railroad tracks west of the site. The surface topography is uneven, with the site sloping toward the Illinois River on the south side of the property. We saw a small (sometimes intermittent) stream on the east side of the property. We saw no signs of lagoons except a couple of water-covered shallow depressions with cattails growing on them. Piles of downed trees and brush were scattered across the site. A shell of a small boat was present on the site. We did not see any signs of 55-gallon drums, tires, or automotive products left on the site.

Some dirt from the site was allegedly trucked to Olson's Auto Wrecking property at 211 N. Main Street (Highway 6) in Seneca without first being sampled for contaminants. The material had been used as fill on the Olson property to construct a barrier from Highway 6. USEPA will oversee the removal of this contaminated material by National Marine to an approved disposal location (6).

Surface water from the site appears, given the slope of the land and the drainage pathways, to drain into the Illinois River. A reported release occurred from the site and its surface impoundments when the Illinois River flooded the site. Groundwater recharge in the area is from precipitation, induced infiltration of surface water from the Illinois River, and subsurface flow from the bluffs bordering the area. The first major groundwater supply underlying the Pennsylvanian aged beds is the Galena-Plattesville aquifer. The depth to the top of this aquifer is 128 feet (2).

IEPA, Bureau of Water, states that the public water supply wells within 4 miles of the site include:

  • two wells 7,000 feet northwest of the site that serve about 2,100 residents of Seneca,
  • one well 7,200 feet north-northwest of the site that serves about 73 residents of the Wildlife Mobile Home Park, and
  • one well 7,500 feet south-southwest of the site that serves about 295 residents of Country Acres Mobile Home Park.

Two non-community wells are approximately 3.9 miles northwest of the site at the Woodsmoke Ranch Association (1). No public surface water supply intakes from the Illinois River are within 15 miles downstream of the site.

The closest industrial well, which is not used for drinking water, is 3,000 feet southwest of the site at the Shipyard Terminal. This well is used to add water to a nitrogen solution and to fill area swimming pools. The closest private well is 1,200 feet northeast of the site (1). A well is also on the automotive repair and salvage yard property. Four on-site wells ranging in depth from 60 to 370 feet were sealed in April 1996 (4).


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