SPRINGFIELD— Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Bonnett has referred an enforcement action to the Illinois Attorney General’s office against Waste Management, Inc., for an emission of gas from the DeKalb County Recycling and Disposal Facility (landfill) that resulted in an estimated 63 students and teachers at a nearby school being medically evaluated after complaining of being ill from a strong odor on January 14.
In the referral, the Agency asks the Attorney General to seek an immediate court order requiring Waste Management to take steps to prevent any future such air pollution incidents and to reimburse costs incurred by the school, first responders and individuals affected, including the cost of reasonable and necessary medical treatment.
The landfill is located at 18370 Somonauk Road, in Cortland. On the morning of January 14, dozens of students at Cortland Elementary School reported to the nurse’s office that they were feeling ill from a strong odor. The school is located at 370 Lexington Drive in Cortland, about one mile from the landfill. Maintenance staff initially responded to the odor by closing the school’s outside air vents.
The Cortland Fire Department was called to the school as a precaution. Area departments responded to a mutual aid alarm, and approximately 45 individuals were transported to Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb for evaluation.
School officials contacted Waste Management concerning the odor shortly after the emission occurred. Waste Management explained that maintenance for gas extraction that controls odor was being upgraded. According to the school superintendent, the odor disappeared at the school later that evening.
An Illinois EPA inspector visited the landfill the day following the incident and determined there was no longer evidence of odors. The inspector used personal gas monitoring equipment and did not detect any gases around the source. The inspector found that the immediate cause for concern had been resolved through actions taken by staff at the landfill. While initial reports indicated carbon monoxide as a concern, it is not a chemical compound typically associated with landfill gas. The Agency will seek to obtain a representative sample of landfill gas from the underground gas collection well in question in order to get a complete analysis of the type of gas that impacted the school. Results will be made available to the public.