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Environmental Contamination

IDPH compared the environmental sample results with the appropriate comparison values developed by ATSDR (Attachment 1). Comparison values are used to select contaminants for further evaluation. Chemicals found at levels greater than comparison values or those for which no comparison values exist were selected for further evaluation and are presented in the tables discussed in this document. Contaminants of interest associated with this site are listed in Tables 1, 2, and 3.

Most environmental samples were analyzed for:

  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include chlorinated solvents, e.g., trichloroethene (TCE) and tetrachloroethene (a.k.a. perchloroethylene or PCE), and light aromatic compounds, e.g., benzene, toluene, and xylene;
  • semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), which include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), e.g., benzo(a)pyrene, chrysene, benzo(a)anthracene, naphthalene, and dibenzofuran;
  • metals; and
  • cyanide, which is a common contaminant associated with plating processes.


The main contaminants of interest in groundwater consist of a group of chemicals known as chlorinated solvents (Tables 1 and 2). Those chemicals are frequently used in plating and other industrial processes as metal cleaners and solvents. Degradation products of those chemicals have also been detected in on-site groundwater (Figure 4). The contamination appears to be concentrated in two areas and suggests the possibility that two separate contaminant plumes exist (Figures 5 and 6).

TCE and 1,1,1-trichloroethane appear to be migrating away from the former Parson's lagoon area. The greatest concentration of TCE in the deep aquifer was detected below the former lagoon area. A separate plume of TCE and PCE has been detected in the western and south-southwestern portions of the deep aquifer and does not appear to originate from the site. A separate source of contamination or changing groundwater flow may account for this other plume. Vinyl chloride was only detected in the southernmost wells and appears to be associated with the PCE plume. Inorganic chemicals detected in on-site groundwater appear to be concentrated in the middle and eastern portions of the site. Data suggest that these contaminants have remained localized on the site.

USGS is also investigating contaminant migration in groundwater at Parson's as well as groundwater characterization of the entire Belvidere area. This investigation is being conducted in phases and has been ongoing since August 1990. During the first phase of their investigation from August through December 1990, three 150-foot boreholes in the dolomite aquifer beneath the site were analyzed with a packer assembly (14). VOCs, mainly chlorinated solvents, were detected throughout the upper half of the bedrock aquifer beneath the site. USGS concluded from this initial phase that contaminant migration is possibly affected by groundwater flow through vertical fractures that connect shallow beds with deeper beds in the aquifer. This may explain the detections of some VOCs at intermittent depths.


The main contaminants of interest in soil consist of PAHs, which are thought to be a result of clinker material found throughout the site (Table 3). Clinker material is ash from burning coal. It is commonly used as the foundation on railroad beds. Clinker material was found throughout the Parson's site and in adjacent areas in the top one foot of soil. Wood chips from burnt railroad ties were also found throughout surface soils. These materials were suspected to be the source of PAHs detected in surface soils during Phase I sampling. Subsequent clinker material sampling showed the presence of several PAHs associated with creosote by-products in area surface soils, further suggesting that this material may be contributing to surface soil contamination. Metals detected in the clinker material are elements expected to be found as a result of burning bituminous coal. The PAHs detected in clinker material did not, however, completely represent chemicals detected in surface soils, suggesting another potential source of soil contamination.

Exposure Assessment

To determine whether residents living near the site have been, are being, or may be exposed to hazardous chemicals migrating from the site, IDPH evaluated the surrounding environmental conditions and local activities that might lead to exposure. Generally, this information is evaluated for five elements, which represent the parts of an exposure pathway. The five elements include a contaminant source, an environmental transport pathway (e.g., groundwater), a point of potential exposure (e.g., a private well), a route of exposure (e.g., ingestion of contaminated groundwater), and a receptor population or people who may be exposed.

An exposure pathway is considered complete, potential, or incomplete based on the status of the five elements. If all five elements exist for a particular exposure pathway, then it is considered complete and indicates that exposure to contaminants has occurred, is occurring, or will occur in the future. A potential exposure pathway is one in which at least one of the five elements is missing but could exist. This suggests that past exposure may have occurred, may be occurring, or may occur in the future. An exposure pathway can be eliminated if at least one of the five elements is missing and will never be present. Completed and potential exposure pathways at Parson's are presented in the following discussion and are shown in Tables 4 and 5.

Completed Exposure Pathways

Some people likely experienced past, present, and could experience future exposures to contaminants in area surface soils; however, those exposures are not a health hazard because duration of exposure was minimal and concentrations were not high enough to result in adverse health effects. Access to the site is restricted, and the site is heavily vegetated. In addition, the site has no apparent features that would attract trespassers. Most off-site surface soil near the site is either covered with vegetation, asphalt, gravel, or concrete, and exposure is not anticipated. Furthermore, off-site soil samples were taken in areas used for equipment storage or driveways near operational facilities where trespassers would not be expected to access.

Inhalation of dust particles presents another exposure pathway to contaminated soil. Past and future exposures are likely from dust generated during removal of on-site contaminated soil. Since the contaminants bind well with soils and do not evaporate into the air easily, exposure through air is expected to be negligible. Nearby residents and on-site workers were exposed to site-related contaminants by incidental ingestion or inhalation from entrained contaminants on soil particles in ambient air. Those exposures are believed to have occurred or may occur during removal of on-site contaminated soils. No data are available to assess past exposures. Future exposures are not expected to be significant because workers will use preventive measures to reduce dust generation, and any future removal activities should encompass a short period of time.

Potential Exposure Pathways

A future potential exposure is possible from contaminated groundwater migrating from the site to nearby private wells. Ten wells have been identified within 0.75 miles down-gradient (south to southeast) of the site. Residents using groundwater may be exposed to site-related contaminants if contaminants migrate from the site to those wells. Potential routes of exposure include ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact. The exposures might result from direct ingestion of the water or domestic water use activities such as showering, bathing, cooking, washing cars, and watering gardens. Considering the nature of the contaminants and the groundwater contamination in the area, future exposures are likely if no remediation takes place. Past and present exposures are unlikely since groundwater monitoring data show that contaminants have not yet migrated to private wells in the area.

Past, present, and future exposures are possible from contaminants migrating from the Parson's site to the Kishwaukee River ΒΌ mile southeast of the site. The Kishwaukee River is a primary hydrogeologic barrier in the area, and all shallow groundwater north of the river eventually finds its way into the river. Residents and visitors using the river for recreational purposes may be exposed by inhalation, incidental ingestion, or skin contact if site-related contaminants have contaminated the river. Significant exposures are not expected because of the chemical properties of the contaminants. The contaminants detected in groundwater are VOCs and their degradation products. These chemicals would volatilize when they contact sediments or surface water. Also, these chemicals are readily metabolized in fish and do not bioaccumulate.


IDPH determined community health concerns through meetings with local residents, local government officials, and Illinois EPA. This document was available for public comment in October and November 1999. No comments were received. During meetings and conversations with local residents, the following health concerns were discussed:

1. Will contaminants migrate from the site and contaminate private wells and the public water supply wells?

Groundwater flow near the site has not been well characterized. The potential for migration of site-related contaminants exists because of the nature of the contaminants detected in the groundwater. No contaminants have been detected in private wells near the site, but, without remediation, contaminants will continue to migrate. USGS is in the process of better defining the contaminant plume and area groundwater flow. That information will help better assess contaminant migration direction and flow rate near Parson's.

2. How far have the contaminants migrated off the site in area groundwater?

Figures 5 and 6 identify the estimated locations of the TCE and PCE plumes near the Parson's site. USGS is in the process of conducting an area-wide study to assess groundwater flow and contaminant migration accurately. The extent of groundwater contamination, at present, is not well characterized.

3. If contaminated soils are removed from the site, where will they be taken?

Illinois EPA will require that contaminated soils (if removed) be disposed in a landfill licensed to accept this type of waste.

4. Will children get cancer from exposure to site-related contaminants?

IDPH has estimated the past, present, and future cancer risks associated with contaminants from Parson's for both children and adults. Based on the available data, no increased risk of developing cancer would be expected.

5. Are Filter System and DEVECO employees working on the site at increased risk from site-related contamination?

IDPH does not believe that these employees are at risk of developing adverse health effects. Employees do not contact on-site soils and no other significant exposures could be identified. Future remedial activities should provide dust control measures to ensure these employees are not significantly exposed during remedial activities.


IDPH and ATSDR recognize that children are especially sensitive to some contaminants. For this reason, IDPH includes children when evaluating exposures to contaminants. Children are the most sensitive population considered in this public health assessment because of their sensitivity. No children have been identified that might have been exposed to site-related contamination at levels that would result in adverse health effects.

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