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Former zinc smelter in Fairmont City added to EPA list for cleanup

Sphalerite, or zinc ore, from the Royal Cornwall Museum Collection.
University of Exeter
Sphalerite, or zinc ore, from the Royal Cornwall Museum Collection.

Updated on April 7, 2016 at 10:45 a.m. with comments from the EPA:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that further actions are required at the Old American Zinc Plant in Fairmont City, as plans for clean-up are in the works.  

“We believe that adding the site to the National Priorities List will result in a faster cleanup,” said Rebecca Frey, a supervisor in the Superfund division for EPA’s region 5, which covers Illinois.

Until 1967, the plant near Illinois’ Cahokia Mounds churned out slabs of zinc, lead and a glassy, often toxic byproduct called slag. High levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead have been found on the 132-acre site, as well as in nearby yards, Rose Creek and a drainage ditch.

The EPA and Illinois Department of Public Health have warned that windblown dust and soil could be a threat to human health, including for onsite workers and children who live nearby. Design plans are being drawn up to implement the EPA’s choice of a remediation plan, determined in 2012.  

The Old American Zinc Plant site has previously been listed under the Superfund Alternative Approach, and transferring to the National Priorities List “will provide additional options” for remediation, the EPA wrote in a site narrative.

“Sites being handled under the Superfund Alternative Approach assume that the PRP’s — the potentially responsible parties — are going to promptly and cooperatively implement the selected remedy,” Frey said. “EPA believes that negotiations, for example, were just taking too long.”

Those “potentially responsible parties” who will be financially responsible for the site’s cleanup include Blue Tee Corporation, Xtra Intermodal, Inc. and the U.S. General Services Administration. Blue Tee has been in court with other potentially responsible parties over how those costs should be shared.

The site is one of five new additions to the EPA's National Priorities List, which includes more than 1,300 uncontrolled hazardous waste areas called Superfund sites. 

Other St. Louis-area Superfund sites include the Taracorp Lead Smelter in Granite City, West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, and the former Weldon Spring Army Ordnance Works in St. Charles County.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB