WILLIAMSON COUNTY, ILLINOIS
(RANGE 4 EAST, TOWNSHIP 10 SOUTH, SECTION 16)
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) requested that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) conduct an initial health evaluation for the Palzo Mine site. The purpose of this initial health evaluation is to assess any known or potential adverse human health effects that may result from exposure to site contamination. This health consultation is based on information currently available for the site.
The Palzo Mine site is a 40-acre reclaimed strip mine south of the village of Crab Orchard, in the southeastern corner of Williamson County, Illinois (Attachment 1). Specifically, the site is in Range 4 East, Township 10 South, Section 16 of Williamson County (Attachment 2). The Stonefort Coal Company strip-mined the area for coal between the years 1953 and 1965. The U.S. Forest Service then purchased the Palzo Mine site. The Peabody Coal Company purchased land next to the Palzo Mine. Beginning in the early 1970s, the U.S. Forest Service, with the assistance of the Peabody Coal Company, began reclamation activities at the Palzo Mine.
When the site was active in the era before environmental regulations, the strip-mining method of claiming the coal involved exposing the coal by digging and piling up all the material that covered the coal. This included digging and piling up a sandstone layer. The large piles of sandstone material, exposed to oxygen and the elements, became acid-producing. Land surrounding the Palzo site has been heavily strip-mined in the past. Many of the problems with the Palzo site are found throughout the area.
The surface area of the mine has been reclaimed by adding fill, grading the surface, and planting grasses. Reclamation activities included incorporating municipal sewage sludge into the acid waste and soil to increase the pH of the soil and to provide fertilizer to promote plant growth. Sewage sludge from Chicago, Illinois, was hauled in by truck at that time. The transporting of Chicago sewage sludge into the Southern Illinois area caused much public concern at that time.
An acid pond with an approximate pH of 2.5 to 3 remains at the Palzo Mine site. This pond overflows into Sugar Creek, which flows along the northern border of the site. Acid runoff from groundwater seeps with an approximate pH of 1.8 also flows into Sugar Creek. Sugar Creek then converges with South Fork Creek, which converges with Middle Fork Creek near Harrisburg, Illinois. Middle Fork Creek ultimately empties into the Saline River. The lower reaches of Sugar Creek has a low pH. South Fork Creek, for about one mile downstream of the Sugar Creek confluence, also has a depressed pH. The lowered pH is believed to be a result of the acid runoff. Those portions of the Creeks are unable to support aquatic life .
According to IEPA files, the only hazardous material currently associated with the Palzo Mine site is the acid runoff. Data analyses in the 1970s compared upstream and downstream water samples of Sugar Creek and a discharge from the mine. The sample results illustrated the presence of high levels of inorganic pollutants including iron, aluminum, manganese, and sulfates . IEPA has not permitted the site as a discharge source, so no current routine discharge sampling for the site has been conducted.
The site is in a rural, sparsely populated area surrounded by other reclaimed strip mines. A small church and approximately four homes are located within a half mile of the site. The site is well vegetated. No structures or other physical hazards are on the site. Vehicular access to the site is restricted by a locked gate. The site is not fenced, but access is further restricted by steep roadside ditches and a thick tree line.
The only reported concern remaining at the reclaimed Palzo Mine site is the acid runoff that continues to contaminate Sugar Creek and the South Fork Creek. According to IEPA, considerable efforts and funds have been invested on the reclamation of the Palzo Mine site, although it remains a major acid source. At this time, IDPH does not know whether further action will be taken to address the acid runoff. Both Sugar and South Fork Creek have a pH so low that aquatic life is unable to survive in the water. Should individuals contact the acidic water, it could burn the eyes and skin. The areas with acidic waters associated with the Palzo site are not easily accessible, nor would they be considered desirable for recreational purposes such as fishing, wading or swimming. The potential for human exposure, therefore, is very small.
The city of Marion, Illinois, proposed creating a reservoir for a municipal potable water supply by damming a portion of Sugar Creek. The location of the reservoir, however, would be upstream of the acid runoff.
Based on the information reviewed, IDPH concludes that although the acid runoff originating from the Palzo Mine site is detrimental to the environment and the biological population in the affected bodies of water, the site poses no apparent public health hazard to the general population at this time.
If data become available suggesting that human exposure to hazardous substances at levels of public health concern is occurring, IDPH will evaluate the need for any follow-up at the site.
Lynn M. Stone
Illinois Department of Public Health
- Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Site Files.
This Palzo Mine Site Health Consultation was prepared by the Illinois Department of Public Health under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the health consultation was begun.
Gail D. Godfrey
Technical Project Officer
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR, has reviewed this health consultation and concurs with its findings.
Richard E. Gillig
Chief, State Programs Section
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation