PFAS – A Pressing Threat
A group of chemicals called “PFAS” (Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are commonly tagged as “forever chemicals.” They are man-made and they don’t break down. When they get into our waters they can travel far from their original discharge sites. If people or animals eat food or drink water that contains PFAS, the PFAS are absorbed and accumulate in the body. PFAS levels can accumulate to a point where humans will suffer adverse health consequences.
High levels of PFAS can lead to increased cholesterol, decreased vaccine response, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, decreases in infant birth weights, and increased risk of cancer.
In October 2021 USEPA released its “PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024”, in which its Administrator acknowledges, “As the science has continued to develop, we know more now than ever about how PFAS build up in our bodies over long periods of time, and how they can cause adverse health effects that can devastate families.”
Sugar Camp Energy owns and operates the Sugar Camp Energy mining complex in Macedonia, Franklin County, Illinois. The company conducts underground mining operations at the Mine using the “longwall” method. Attempting to extinguish a fire that had been smoldering at the Mine, Sugar Camp Energy pumped more than 46,000 gallons of firefighting foam into the Mine beginning in mid-August. To disperse the foam into the Mine, the Company drilled six wells. The foam was mixed in two earthen pits and pumped into two of the wells.
In September 2021, citizens and local water district officials documented foam floating on the surface of an unnamed tributary of Akin Creek and in nearby farm field ditches. The foam was also observed to be spread on nearby farm fields.
Although representatives of Sugar Camp Energy asserted to IEPA that the foam used by the company is “biodegradable, will not harm fish or wildlife, and will not destroy or retard new forest growth”, most of the products Sugar Camp used to fight the fire are toxic and have not been shown to be actually biodegradable, as noted in the Material Safety Data Sheet files for the products themselves. In fact, two of the foam products used contain PFAS chemicals. Samples collected by IEPA from nearby surface water locations were found to contain PFAS in concentrations higher than EPA health advisory levels, Illinois drinking water health advisory levels, and Illinois draft groundwater standards.
In October 2021, for Sierra Club and Prairie Rivers Network, Great Rivers served notice of intent to bring a citizen suit against Sugar Camp Energy and American Consolidated Natural Resources under the federal Clean Water Act and the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
If Sugar Camp Energy does not fully comply with federal law by containing, destroying, and removing the foam from the Mine and remediating impacted surface and groundwater, Great Rivers, Sierra Club, and Prairie Rivers Network intend to file a citizens’ suit seeking civil penalties and for an injunction compelling compliance with federal law.
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.