EPA Investigating Nicor's Mercury Disposal
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week began
investigating how Illinois' Nicor Gas disposes of its used gas
regulators after investigators found mercury contamination at a
scrap yard used by the company. EPA already has begun testing five
Nicor service centers and other scrap yards for mercury
Nicor also was hit with a second piece of bad news last week:
the Illinois attorney general, the Cook County state's attorney and
the DuPage County state's attorney filed a joint lawsuit against
the company related to the possible mercury contamination.
Homeowners also have begun filing lawsuits related to the mercury
contamination, which has forced some residents already to evacuate.
Nicor CEO Tom Fisher said he was disappointed by the lawsuits,
and said the company would "act as quickly as possible to inspect
all customer premises."
The regulatory scrutiny and litigation follows a plan announced
by Nicor on Aug. 30 where it voluntarily agreed to inspect up to
200,000 homes in its service territory that may be contaminated by
mercury used in old-style regulators. Nicor Gas serves more than
1.9 million customers in a service area that includes most of the
northern third of Illinois, except for the City of Chicago.
Nicor has given EPA a list of about 15 scrapyards where the old
gas regulators may have been sent, and last week, EPA had found
mercury contamination at a Chicago Heights scrap yard allegedly
used by Nicor. Federal regulations require that toxic substances,
including mercury, be removed from equipment and properly disposed
of before the equipment is sent to a landfill. The mercury waste is
supposed to be sent to a licensed hazardous waste landfill or
recycled following federal rules.
If EPA and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA)
find evidence that Nicor improperly disposed of the mercury, the
company would be required to pay for any cleanup costs under the
federal Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act,
commonly known as Superfund. IEPA also could assess cleanup costs
of its own.
Nicor decided on its own to inspect the 200,000 older homes in
its service area after one of its crews found mercury in a home
where an old gas-meter regulator had been removed by a Nicor
technician in 1989. In early August, Nicor found mercury
contamination at the home and cleaned up the spill. It then began
testing other homes where the same contractor had removed old gas
meters. Mercury was also found in those homes, according to EPA.
Old-style gas regulators - mostly built before 1960 - contained
two teaspoons of mercury that controlled the flow of natural gas.
Nicor said its tests would be done on homes built before 1961.
Homes with old-style meters outside of the homes and systems
operated at low pressure are not likely to have problems.
Carolyn Davis, Houston
©Copyright 2000 Intelligence Press, Inc. All rights
reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or
redistributed in whole or in part without prior written consent of
Intelligence Press, Inc.