Concerns for the Fox spark clean-up

April West

Oct. 16, Jim Hahnenberg, project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency, gave a Spoerl Lecture on a Polychlorinated biphenyls cleanup in the Fox River.
According to Hahnenberg, the lower Fox River is part of the largest environmental sediment cleanup project ever undertaken in North America. Besides the EPA, there are other potentially responsible parties that are responsible for helping with cleanup.
PCBs are an unnatural mixture of up to 209 individual chlorinated compounds. They are either oily liquids or solids that are colorless to light yellow.
PCBs were used in the United States as coolants and lubricants for transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment until 1977 when they were found to have harmful effects for both humans and the environment. Because of carbonless carbon paper production, 345 tons of PCBs were discharged into the Fox River between 1954 and 1971.
PCBs are not easily broken down in the environment and thus remain there for very long periods of time. Airborne PCBs can also travel long distances from where they are dispersed, Hahnenberg said.
Small organisms and fish take in PCBs, which then travel up the food chain. The more the PCBs do so, the more concentrated they become.
Fish advisories have been issued since 1976 urging people to reduce their consumption of fish from the Fox River. PCBs can cause acne-like skin conditions in adults and neurobehavioral and immunological changes in children. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals.
The EPA’s plan is to dredge and dispose of 8.6 million cubic yards of sediment from the Fox River ground floor and deposit it in a landfill, costing $715 million. This is much pricier than expected — the original estimate was $400 million.
The EPA began work on this project in mid-2004. They plan to implement phase two in 2007, at which time they will dredge downstream because it has a higher concentration of PCBs.
This cleanup project is important because the PCB levels in the Fox River are now 50 to 70 times higher than is deemed acceptable.
If nothing at all were done to solve the problem, it would take 51 years for these levels to decline and become acceptable. The immediate area around Lawrence will not be dredged, as we have a relatively small PCB concentration.
Besides the EPA, Lawrence students themselves are taking action to keep the Fox River clean. Oct. 23, the Lawrence Volunteer and Community Service Center held its annual All Campus Environment Day, which included a cleanup of the Fox River. Students managed to fill four garbage bags and even dig out a bike.
Other of the day’s activities included cleaning up around the Heckrodt Wetland Preserve and a literature drop where volunteers passed out environmentally informational pamphlets to the community.