What to do
To report dumping in your area, the IEPA recommends calling your local law enforcement deaprtmen’s nonemergency number or your local health department. If you witness illegal dumping, call 911 to report the crime.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Illinois taxpayers shelled out more than $1 million in 2010 to rid the state of a huge illegal dump that state environmentalists say was the largest in Illinois history.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spent $1.06 million to clean a sprawling, 12-acre dump near Interstate 294 and 159th Street in Markham, according to IEPA spokeswoman Maggie Carson. Until early 2000, the area was a neglected portion of unincorporated Cook County.
County and state officials continue to paint the other as the responsible party that for decades ignored the solid waste pileup and public health threat.
While the finger-pointing continues, the IEPA is working with Markham police and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to prevent trespassing at the site and to conduct hazardous waste testing.
“It’s still clean, and I go by and make sure it’s secure,” said Charlene Thigpen, an environmental protection specialist with the IEPA who oversaw cleanup at the site and continues to work to determine who is responsible for the 12-acre dump.
“There’s nothing going on like the grand scale of dumping we were dealing with,” she said. “But monitoring by us and by people who live there is the only way to make sure it stays that way.”
Dumpers for decades deposited tires, broken and battered mobile homes, rusted-out boat hulls, drums of chemical waste and household fixtures such as toilets and sinks, as well as broken children’s toys, glass, auto parts and a laundry list of other identifiable — and unidentifiable — waste.
Crews removed more than 600 truckloads of solid waste, tires and other debris from the site, and testing and removal of suspected hazardous chemicals is ongoing.
So far, water monitoring has not revealed any harm to local supplies.
The IEPA took control of the site in April after a four-day, four-alarm fire broke out there. The dump’s immense size and threat to public health and safety prompted the IEPA to file a lawsuit against Markham in June, accusing the city of maintaining an illegal dump that represents a “substantial” threat to the public health.
Markham officials blame Cook County, which had oversight of the land before it came under city control in the 2000s and say they referred all complaints about the dump before 2000 to the county.
Cook County cannot produce records of complaints or action taken at the site, a SouthtownStar investigation found.
Carson said the IEPA has no record of any complaints lodged about the Markham dump before April 2010.
A handful of old county roads — now blocked by concrete barriers — off 159th Street between Western Avenue and Dixie Highway led to this vast expanse of rotting, rusting waste.
A few homes lie along these roads; some are tidy, but most are abandoned mobile homes.
The huge volume of waste revealed after the April fire had state environmentalists lamenting both the public health hazard posed by an open dump and the huge price of the cleanup.
“This is $1 million we could be spending on communities, but instead, we have to solve a preventable public health problem. It’s frustrating,” Charles Grigalauski, an IEPA regional manager, said during a cleanup effort in August.
IEPA and Markham officials met in court on Dec. 14 to discuss the ongoing efforts to secure the site. Per a court order, Markham installed video surveillance cameras at the site and the feed is monitored by Markham’s 911 dispatch center, Thigpen said.
The IEPA would like the video feeds to capture better-quality pictures at night, she said, and the parties are scheduled to meet again to discuss night monitoring.
“The court wants the city and the state to meet before the end of January to talk more about specific things they’re looking for in investigating the site,” Illinois attorney general’s office spokesman Scott Milford said. “And the IEPA is awaiting assistance from the U.S. EPA with some questions regarding some hazardous waste that was found on site.”