The toxin that holds America together – The Daily Egyptian

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the copperThe sleeper plant site used more than half a dozen chemicals to treat wood products with preservatives for use on railroad tracks, telephone poles and other major wooden elements of the American infrastructure before its closure in 1991.

A report by the 1909 United States Forest Service describes how treating wood with creosote was a cheap alternative to other, less hazardous options. This made it popular for use in infrastructure construction projects at a time when railroads and utility lines were stretched across the country.

Creosote was the main chemical used, but other elements and compounds, including arsenic and toxic dioxin compounds, were also commonly used. These hazardous materials were at the site according to an Illinois report Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) site report.

According to the EPA report, creosote comes in several forms, but the most common are coal tar creosote and wood tar creosote. These are produced by burning their titular materials and distilling the resulting tar along with the arsenic and other chemicals released by the combustion into a liquid that can be injected into the wood to prevent decay.

the APE report also describes an incident in 1939 in which an undrained tank of creosote was intentionally thrown on the ground to prevent an explosion of the extremely flammable substance. It also indicates how the compound was regularly dumped and released during storage and routine storage.

the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), released a report on creosote detailing how it contaminates the environment as well as how it affects plants, animals and people exposed to the substance.

“Coal tar creosote is released to water and soil from its use in the wood preservation industry,” the ATSDR said. “In the past, wastewater from wood processing facilities was often discharged into unlined lagoons.”

According to the report, this sludge contained water-soluble compounds and others that would take much longer to break down. Many of the compounds that take longer to break down remain toxic, even as they seep into their lagoons, soil and groundwater below.

The ATSDR reported how human exposure to creosote can occur through the skin, through inhalation of airborne volatile compounds released during combustion and distillation, and through ingestion of food and / or contaminated water.

“Skin cancer and cancer of the scrotum result from long-term exposure to low levels of creosote, particularly through direct skin contact during wood processing and during the production or manufacture of products. treated with creosote,” the ATSDR said.

According to the report, higher exposure doses over a short period of time lead to skin rashes, chemical burns, seizures, mental confusion, kidney and liver problems, unconsciousness and death.

Chaparral creosote, derived from burning the chaparral bush and leaves, is used in small amounts in some commonly available commercial products, including some herbal remedies and psoriasis shampoo. This form, although potentially dangerous in high doses, is not as dangerous as the exposure one can give through soil, air and ground water contaminated with wood or coal tar creosote. .

In Carbondale, a local community action group known as Concerned citizens of Carbondale (CCC) raised a monument in Attucks Park to celebrate the workers of the old Koppers site and raise awareness of the ongoing effects of site contamination. A website was created by the CCC as part of the memorial to detail the history of the community’s interaction with the site.

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“Located in the black, underserved neighborhood of the city, it employed mostly black workers at greatly reduced wages,” the CCC’s website said.

According to the site, the men working at the factory are regularly soaked in creosote and other toxic chemicals. This contamination would be so complete that workers would have to bury their clothes in their yards to remove some of the toxins before they could wash them.

“In addition to this method of spreading the toxins through the neighborhood, the air, water and soil in the area were also contaminated with the chemicals,” the CCC said. “This has led and continues to lead to a high rate of cancer in the neighborhood, particularly multiple myeloma, which may be directly linked to creosote poisoning.”

The site was closed for active production in 1991, but only in 2004 that a decision has been made by the APE to begin soil remediation with the aim of decontaminating the area. According to their report, Beazer East Inc., the company that purchased the property after its closure, began initial cleanup efforts in 2004, with Beazer and EPA efforts continuing to this day.

Early in the decontamination process, the field was visibly contaminated with creosote, according to the EPA report. This was compounded by the lack of barriers around the contaminated property, exposing children and families living nearby to easily accessible carcinogenic materials on the ground for children to be exposed through the skin and ingested with food when the hands are not washed.

Cleanup efforts included removing acres of soil as well as draining, cleaning and relocating part of a nearby creek while placing an engineered plug over the remaining contaminated soil to prevent further contamination from rainwater while contaminated soil and groundwater below are confined to the site.

The EPA must monitor groundwater and soil contamination in the area as part of the remediation process. However, this has caused some controversy within the community.

According to the CCC, the EPA prioritized testing on the property and to the north of the property, the direction in which the nearby creek flowed. However, residents of the neighboring predominantly black community to the south of the property have also requested that their property be tested as well.

These tests took place in April 2005 and found the land to be free of contamination, although residents and the CCC believe the tests were inaccurate as the tests only penetrated through six inches of topsoil and did not not tested groundwater below.

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“Many of our residents who worked at Kopper, children, spouses and neighbors who were exposed to the toxins died of multiple myeloma, sarcoidosis, heart attacks and many other illnesses,” said the CCC. “We contacted lawyers, our senators and congressmen for help, but to no avail.”

In 2013, Brightfield, a company that uses formerly contaminated areas to install solar panels, obtained a permit to develop the area. After a three-year idle period in the field, the permit expired and was not renewed when applied for in 2017.

EPA reports determined in March 2019 that additional contaminants were found outside of the initial remediation area, including to the south closer to the residential neighborhood. Additional efforts to decontaminate the area began in November 2020 and were declared complete in April 2021.

This statement sparked an outcry from the CCC who continue to believe that adequate testing has not been done in their neighborhood.

“We are powerless in this fight because we are unable to hire a lawyer, get our ground tested, or get a public health assessment,” the CCC said. “Our voices are not being heard by the state EPA, the US EPA and the city of Carbondale.”

Staff reporter William Box can be contacted on [email protected] or on Twitter at @William17455137. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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