JOLIET – The Iron Works Historic Site could soon be enrolled in the state’s environmental remediation program under the assumption there may be hazardous materials there that date back to U.S. Steel’s ownership of the property.
The Forest Preserve District of Will County acquired the 60-acre Joliet property in 1991 with the intent to turn it into a historic site. U.S. Steel had used the site for its steel mill operations, meaning any potential liability issues should fall on the shoulders of U.S. Steel, said Marcy DeMauro, the district’s director.
An environmental study and sequential cleanup was completed back when the district first acquired the land decades ago, DeMauro said. At the time, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued the district a “no further remediation required” letter, meaning the property was deemed safe for use.
More recently, however, additional soil sampling of the adjacent U.S. Steel site on Collins Street raised concerns that a ditch located at the north end of the Iron Works site could potentially be contaminated with benzene, a human carcinogen, along with heavy metals or other volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, DeMauro said.
“Because [of the flow of groundwater] … that goes along a ditch that runs through our property, the concern is that there’s the potential for contamination,” DeMauro said. “We don’t know for sure.”
U.S. Steel officials have been in talks with the district for months about enrolling the site in IEPA’s Site Remediation Program, which is voluntary, she said.
Members of the forest preserve board’s operations committee were briefed about the site’s potential enrollment during a meeting Wednesday morning.
Joliet-based attorney Joseph Cernugal said Wednesday he is in talks with the steel company on negotiating an agreement that authorizes them to enroll the site in the state’s remediation program, with all responsibility lying with U.S. Steel should any issues arise.
But U.S. Steel’s initial request to enroll the site in the program “doesn’t go far enough,” Cernugal said. Nor does it commit them to potential cleanup obligations, he said.
Cernugal sent the company a letter last week stating the district will only allow U.S. Steel to enroll the site if certain terms and conditions are agreed to.
The district wants U.S. Steel to accept responsibility for all environmental impacts relating to the steel mill operations, in addition to any impacts that have “arisen from the presence, operation and full tenure of U.S. Steel on the site.”
U.S. Steel must also provide all information, documents and data relating to the site’s enrollment in IEPA’s program. District officials will need ample advance notice of any work done on the site, a detailed remediation plan, and assurance that the site – once remediation is complete – is returned to the district intact.
“When this is over with, we want to have a preserve which is no less than what we have now,” Cernugal said.