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The Tri-County and Elgin Landfills pose a public health hazard because the concentrations of lead in downgradient private wells are high enough to be a long-term health concern. There are many chemicals in on-site shallow and intermediate groundwater, as well as surface and subsurface soils, which pose a potential hazard to anyone who may live on the site in the future. In addition, contaminants presently at levels of concern only in on-site monitoring wells, may reach on- or off-site private or municipal wells in the future. Possible health effects of site contaminants are discussed in this document.

Completed exposure pathways include the exposure to contaminated water from on- and off-site private wells (inhalation, ingestion, dermal contact; past, present, future). Contaminants of concern in on-site groundwater include bis(2-chloroethyl)ether, vinyl chloride, antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, fluoride, lead, manganese, nickel, nitrate + nitrite, and thallium. One private well immediately downgradient of the site has high levels of lead. Exposure to non-site related contaminants in off-site private wells (ingestion, inhalation, dermal contact) has occurred.

Exposure to on-site surface soil (ingestion, inhalation, dermal contact) has likely occurred. Chemicals of concern in on-site surface soil and sediments include PCBs, arsenic, cadmium, and nickel. Contaminants of concern in on-site subsurface soil include PCBs, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and nickel. The concentrations of airborne compounds are unknown.

Potential exposures include (1) exposure to on- and off-site airborne contaminants (inhalation of volatile chemicals and dust, ingestion and inhalation of dust; past, present, and future) and (2) exposure to chemicals in private wells which may be contaminated in the future (ingestion, inhalation, dermal contact), (3) exposure to on-site subsurface soil (future only) or on- or off-site sediments, surface soil, or surface water (ingestion, inhalation, or dermal contact; past, present, future).

Exposed or potentially exposed populations on-site include on-site workers, trespassers, and Prairie Path users. Off-site exposed or potentially exposed people include off-site workers and residents, as well as Prairie Path users. For the present or past, the potential population of greatest concern includes (1) children, (2) fetuses of pregnant women, or (3) future children of women who may become pregnant who regularly consume(d) water from the private well south of the site with high lead levels (apparently serves a business, so children are not likely exposed). In the future, if houses are built on-site and they have wells, their inhabitants would be at the highest risk. The soil of their yards may also be contaminated. Contaminants from the site may contaminate additional private wells and may reach municipal wells in the future.

This public health assessment recommends health professionals education and community health education be conducted for the community impacted by the landfills. In addition, any children, pregnant women, or women of child-bearing age who regularly drink water from well 7, which has a high lead level, should have their blood lead levels tested. Access to the sites should be restricted and additional environmental characterization is needed of the groundwater hydrogeology, on-site surface soil, and possible air contaminants.


A.    Site Description and History

The Tri-County Landfill is a 46 acre site and the Elgin Landfill is a 20 acre one in Section 1, T40N, R8E (Figure 1). In July 1986, the Tri-County Landfill was added to the National Priority Listing (NPL) of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). On April 22, 1988, the Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) was started by the USEPA and WW Engineering Science, Inc. In May 1990, based on the results of Phase I of the RI, the Elgin Landfill was added to the project.

The Elgin Landfill is immediately north of the Tri-County Landfill (Figure 2), and the border between the two is often indistinct. Electromagnetic surveys conducted during the RI showed the wastes are in contact with each other, and open dumping, rather than trenches, was used to fill the site. On the east and southeast, the site is bordered by Illinois Route 25. On the south, the Tri-County Landfill is bordered by a wooded swamp (considered on-site). To the west, the site is bordered by an abandoned railroad right-of-way, which has been made into a Prairie Path (biking, hiking, and horseback riding trail). West of the Prairie Path is the Woodland Landfill. This active landfill is a modern one with a clay liner and cap, as well as a leachate collection system. Therefore, it is less likely to cause groundwater contamination than the older Elgin and Tri-County Landfills, at least at this time.

The Tri-County and Elgin Landfills were built in abandoned gravel pits. Mining was completed before the 1940s at the Tri-County site, but at the Elgin Landfill, gravel was removed by the Material Service Company until the late 1950s (WW Engineering and Science, 1991a). Sometime in the late 1950s, the depression remaining after sand and gravel removal ceased was used as an open dump. This practice continued for many years. A 1964 visit by the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) found a large amount of refuse in the pit, indicating that open dumping had been occurring for some time (Landon, 1964). In April 1968, the Elgin-Wayne Disposal Company began sanitary landfill practices at the Tri-County Landfill under a permit from Kane County (WW Engineering and Science, 1991a; WW Engineering and Science, 1989). They ran the operations until 1970, when the Tri-County Landfill Company, the owner of the property, assumed operations. In that year, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) issued the Tri-County Landfill a permit to operate a landfill (WW Engineering and Science, 1991a; WW Engineering and Science, 1989). That company ran the landfill until 1973, when Waste Management, Inc. (who reportedly bought the Elgin-Wayne Disposal Company in 1972) began operating it. Filling continued until December 1976; however, final cover was not achieved by Waste Management, Inc. until 1981. The cap was not seeded, and this led to erosion, especially on the southern and southwestern slopes. Eroded parts were repeatedly repaired until natural vegetation grew and protected the cap.

Since 1988, the Tri-County Landfill has been owned by the Michigan Avenue National Bank Trust, Elmhurst, Illinois. Previous owners have included the General Dynamics Corporation, Elgin Landfill Company, and LaSalle National Bank Trust.

The Tri-County Landfill was licensed to accept non-putrescible construction rubble, paper, and wood from industrial plants; however, hazardous wastes were also apparently placed in the site. The nature of these chemicals is not entirely known, but they are believed to include acids, bases, heavy metals, incinerator ash, inorganics, mixed municipal waste, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), solvents (corrosive, flammable, persistent, and toxic), and waste oils. For most of these chemicals, the amounts placed in the landfill are unknown; however, it is believed that 55 to 60 drums per week (55-gallon drums) of nonpumpable waste (possibly heptane and aromatics), 33 drums of organic-contaminated solids, 123,000 pounds of PCB-contaminated grease, and 33 drums of solvents (55-gallon drums) were dumped at the site. The sources of fill material are thought to have included the iron and steel, chemical, construction, fertilizer, paper, photofinishing, plating, and printing industries, as well as wastes from car wash and service station pumpings, hospitals, laboratories, petroleum tank cleaners, and utilities (including transformers). The landfill also received mixed municipal waste and sanitary fill. The amounts, nature, and sources of waste placed in this facility, however, are far from certain. Records of quantities and waste type were not kept. The only data come from composite information provided in oral and written responses of employees from reporting companies. Much of this information may have been founded in hearsay, rumor, speculation, and imperfect recollection of past events.

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) records of serious leachate problems on the southern and southwestern slopes of the Tri-County Landfill exist back to only July 5, 1973; however, complaints of leachate date from 1971. Leachate has also occurred in the northwestern corner of the landfill.

In March 1971, the Elgin Jaycees filed a complaint before the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) against the Tri-County Landfill Company. They alleged that the company was violating the Illinois Environmental Protection Act with respect to air, leaching, soil, and water pollution. In particular, they claimed that leachate from the landfill was contaminating an unnamed tributary of Brewster Creek south of the site, and that this pollution could eventually affect the Fox River, into which the latter creek flows. On April 12, 1973, the IPCB ruled in favor of the complainants with the following findings (Erdman, 1973):

  1. The landfill should cease and desist the causing of water pollution,
  2. Leachate flows from the site must cease within 180 days,
  3. A $100,000 bond is to be posted to ensure compliance with (1) and (2) above, and $20,000 is forfeited if compliance is not attained, and
  4. A $10,000 fine is levied against the Tri-County Landfill Company for threatening and causing water pollution.

The Tri-County Landfill has been used by trespassers. All-terrain vehicle tracks, empty beer cans, and cardboard beverage cartons have been found on-site. An empty steel drum was evidently used for firearm practice (WW Engineering and Science, 1991b).

Like the adjacent Tri-County Landfill, the Elgin Landfill is in a worked-out gravel pit. Refuse was placed on remnants of the mined sand and gravel, and there is no clay berm or liner. From the time it was begun in 1961 until 1974, when the landfill was closed, it was run under Kane County permit by the Elgin Landfill Company, a subsidiary of Browning-Ferris Industries of Illinois, Inc (WW Engineering and Science, 1991a).

In 1961, the land was placed in trust at the LaSalle National Bank, and in September 1961, it was conveyed to George Postoma and George Evenhouse, co-partners, Elgin Landfill Company. From 1975 to 1977, ten individuals conveyed the property to the Van der Molen Disposal Company. One of the people at the Van der Molen Disposal Company was listed on property records as the president of Browning-Ferris Industries of Illinois (BFI). In 1978, BFI conveyed the property to Wilber and Joan Hish, although it had never been officially transferred to BFI from the Van der Molen Disposal Company. The property was split into Parcel A and Parcel B. In 1979, Parcel A was conveyed to Allan and Barbara Pingel. In 1982, Parcel B was transferred to the Roselle State Bank and Trust Co., and in 1985, it was conveyed to Allan and Barbara Pingel (WW Engineering and Science, Inc., 1991a).

On October 12, 1976, a waste disposal permit for the Elgin Landfill was issued to Browning-Ferris, after the site was closed. This permit allowed the disposal of construction waste, including asphalt, bricks, broken concrete, fill dirt, sand, and stone. The disposal of all combustible, hazardous, liquid, metallic, and, specifically, heterogeneous building demolition wastes, were prohibited. In 1977, a supplemental permit was obtained to allow the disposal of 20 cubic yards per week of shredded tires, 100 cubic yards per week of street sweepings, and 80 cubic yards per week of wood chips. In 1980, these existing permits were transferred to Mr. Pingel.

While hazardous wastes were not permitted at the Elgin Landfill, they were apparently dumped at the site. An unknown, but substantial amount of incinerator ash was placed in the landfill. A 1988 IEPA inspection found three full to partially full drums of pesticides and solvents (types unspecified), as well as a cylinder of compressed gas. Industrial wastes are thought to have been placed in the site, possibly including oily waste, pesticides, sludge, and solvents. The nature and amounts of these chemicals, however, are unknown.

At the Elgin Landfill, IEPA records of sporadic leachate problems begin in 1971. In that year, workers at South Elgin Municipal Well Number 3 reported that total suspended solids had increased 100%, and the nearby Elgin and Tri-County Landfills were blamed. Subsequent sampling showed no evidence of contamination, but only random fluctuations in various parameters. However, this did not stop the initiation of legal action. In December 1971, the Village of South Elgin, along with support from the Elgin Jaycees, Illinois State Attorney General (ILAG), and Kane County, successfully argued before the Kane County Zoning Board of Appeals that the Elgin site was not suitable for use as a landfill. The site kept accepting waste, however, while their attorneys filed numerous appeals and continuances. In 1973, BFI was fined $10,000 for failing to close the landfill as ordered by the court.

In 1971, the Elgin Jaycees filed a complaint before the IPCB against the Elgin Landfill Company. They alleged the company was violating the Illinois Environmental Protection Act with respect to air, leaching, soil, and water pollution. On April 12, 1973, the IPCB ruled in favor of the complainants with the following findings:

  1. The landfill should cease and desist the causing of water pollution,
  2. Leachate flows from the site must cease within 180 days,
  3. A $100,000 bond is to be posted to ensure compliance with (1) and (2) above, and $20,000 is forfeited if compliance is not attained, and
  4. A $10,000 fine is levied against the Elgin Landfill Company for threatening and causing water pollution.

Payment of the $10,000 fine was stayed.

In 1974, the landfill was full and stopped operating; however, it never went through any formal closure procedure. An undated enforcement notice from the IEPA notified the Elgin Landfill Company that within 14 days, they had to provide evidence that they were taking steps to correct violations cited four times in 1974 and 1975. These violations included lack of adequate final cover, as well as the failure to monitor and take remedial action to solve gas, settling, and water problems during the three year post-closure/completion period.

In August 1976, the Second District Court of Appeals upheld the 1971 ruling that the Elgin Landfill site was unsuitable for use as a landfill. However, when Mr. Pingel bought the property, he was allowed to transfer the existing permits to his name and resume operations. He placed construction waste in a ravine and a pit formed by differential settling of the abandoned landfill. The ravine was about 200 yards long and 50 yards wide.

Between 1978 and 1981, the owners were cited 11 times for failing to provide adequate depth of final cover to the landfill. They were also repeatedly cited for not spreading and compacting waste as received, and dumping unpermitted heterogeneous demolition, landscape, metal, paper, and plastic waste. Additional repeated citations included having waste present in standing water, leaving old refuse exposed, illegal open burning, not applying adequate intermediate cover, and sporadic leachate problems.

B.    Site Visits

Site visits were performed by Staff of the IDPH on May 25, 1989 and June 28, 1989 (perimeter only), on August 2, 1989 by IDPH staff and Mr. Richard Young, Kane County Development Department (on-site), and on November 7, 1991, by IDPH and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) staff (on-site). The most recent site visit by IDPH staff was on March 22, 1994.

By August 1989, the ravine had been filled, but not the pit. The top of the landfill was flat, had considerable amounts of exposed rubble, and was not adequately covered. On that date, some cover material which may have been of adequate quality was being piled on the site, but the amount was inadequate to cover more than a few hundred square feet of it. By November 7, 1991, most of the Elgin Landfill had been covered with soil, but the cap was relatively flat and largely unvegetated. No noticable change was observed during the March 1994 visit.

Some residences and businesses are south of the Tri-County Landfill, and many exist in South Elgin, which is west and northwest of the Woodland Landfill. Rural land in Kane County is rapidly being developed for single family homes, and many of these are quite large. Consequently, in the future, the number of people living near the Tri-County and Elgin Landfills will probably increase.

C.    Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resources Use

Approximately 1,100 people live within 1 mile and about 11,000 people live within 3 miles of the landfill. The land use north and east of the site is agricultural.

The locations of private wells on- and off-site are shown in Figures 3 and 4. The nearest well to the Tri-County Landfill, at the Talisman Restaurant, is about 300 feet deep and less than 100 yards upgradient of it. The nearest wells downgradient of the site are about 500 feet southwest of the Tri-County Landfill, are adjacent to the Woodland Landfills, and serve the Elmhurst-Chicago Stone Company and Woodland Landfills. The nearest residential well known to exist downgradient of the Tri-County site is about 1800 feet west-southwest of the waste area. Several houses with wells are south of the site on Dunham Road, and the nearest one is about 1200 feet from the landfill and 750 feet from the site boundary.

The municipal wells nearest to the landfills are in the Newark Aquifer and include South Elgin Wells Number 6 (approximately 3500 feet northwest) and Number 3 (approximately 4000 feet northwest), and two adjacent wells in Valley View (St. Charles Skyline; approximately 10,000 feet southwest). In 1989, the South Elgin and Valley View municipal water supplies served approximately 7223 and 2112 residents, respectively (WW Engineering and Science, 1991b).

D.    Health Outcome Data

The State of Illinois maintains data bases for cancer and birth defects. These data are organized according to zip code and can be used to compare incidence rates of the site zip code to the state as a whole or a control group. Such a comparison is made if (1) exposure to a chemical(s) is occurring at levels that may cause an adverse health effect(s), (2) the adverse health effect is recorded on one of the state data bases, (3) many people in a given zip code are exposed. A comparison is also made if the community is concerned that a disease rate is elevated, and the three conditions above are satisfied.


The President, Village of South Elgin, has been concerned about possible contamination of the water supply of his town by the landfills in the area, and has written many letters of concern and protest to the IEPA, IPCB, and Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) between 1971 and 1976. In 1971, letters of protest were also sent to the IPCB by the League of Women Voters of Elgin.

On August 4, 1992, USEPA held a public meeting on the Tri-County and Elgin Landfills at the Village Hall of South Elgin, and it was attended by 34 people. Most of the meeting was about the proposed remedial alternative (Figure 5), and most of the concerns were about its adequacy. Citizen concerns included (1) the absence of a leachate collection trench on the southwestern part of the landfill (proposed alternative), (2) any effects of dewatering on the Woodland Landfill (proposed alternative), (3) the absence of a collection trench along Route 25 to intercept incoming water (proposed alternative), (4) the leachate collection system may de-water private wells (proposed alternative), (5) the clay under the site may not prevent the contamination of deeper aquifers, even with the leachate collection system (with or without proposed alternative), (6) possible groundwater contamination from the Woodland Landfill, (7) future care of the leachate collection system and monitoring (proposed alternative), (8) if a berm would be constructed around the site (proposed alternative), (9) waste acceptance by the Elgin Landfill, (10) few soil samples were taken from the western side of the Tri-County Landfill, (11) the future contamination of off-site private wells, and (12) if 2/10 of the people around the site would get lung cancer after inhaling dust from on-site soil {risk estimate given in WW Engineering and Science (1991b)}. One person expressed the opinion that the site was not bad enough to justify remediation. This drew an angry response from people who were concerned about possible contamination of their wells.

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