The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to sit down withIllinois’ Nicor Gas officials this week to discuss how the companydisposes of its used gas regulators after investigators foundmercury contamination at a scrapyard used by the company. EPAalready has begun testing five Nicor service centers and otherscrapyards for mercury contamination.

Nicor also was hit with a second piece of bad news yesterday:the Illinois attorney general, the Cook County state’s attorney andthe DuPage County state’s attorney filed a joint lawsuit againstthe company related to the possible mercury contamination.Homeowners also have begun filing lawsuits related to the mercurycontamination, 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 inspectall customer premises.”

The regulatory scrutiny and litigation follows a plan announcedby Nicor on Aug. 30 where it voluntarily agreed to inspect up to200,000 homes in its service territory that may be contaminated bymercury used in old-style regulators. Nicor Gas serves more than1.9 million customers in a service area that includes most of thenorthern third of Illinois, except for the City of Chicago.

Nicor has given EPA a list of about 15 scrapyards where the oldgas regulators may have been sent, and last week, EPA had foundmercury contamination at a Chicago Heights scrapyard allegedly usedby Nicor. Federal regulations require that toxic substances,including mercury, be removed from equipment and properly disposedof before the equipment is sent to a landfill. The mercury waste issupposed to be sent to a licensed hazardous waste landfill orrecycled following federal rules.

If EPA and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA)find evidence that Nicor improperly disposed of the mercury, thecompany would be required to pay for any cleanup costs under thefederal Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act,commonly known as Superfund. IEPA also could assess cleanup costsof its own.

Nicor decided on its own to inspect the 200,000 older homes inits service area after one of its crews found mercury in a homewhere an old gas-meter regulator had been removed by a Nicortechnician in 1989. In early August, Nicor found mercurycontamination at the home and cleaned up the spill. It then begantesting other homes where the same contractor had removed old gasmeters. 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 ofnatural gas. Nicor said its tests would be done on homes builtbefore 1961. Homes with old-style meters outside of the homes andsystems operated at low pressure are not likely to have problems.

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