Toxic waste settles down in Lowell

MARK KIESLING, NORTHWEST INDIANA TIMES, OCTOBER 15, 2006
Whether it’s the ancient history of Watergate or the fresh headlines surrounding the congressional page scandal, people want to know the answer to the same question: “Who knew about this, and how early did they know it?”
People also want those answers about the former Feddeler Landfill outside of Lowell, and the answers are slow in coming and may never be fully realized.
None of this is much comfort to the hundreds of people who settled down in Lowell in search of the peaceful, pastoral life far from the pollution that plagues the northern half of Lake County.
Now in this bucolic setting, it appears that sheep may no longer safely graze.
Where’s the beef? Well, it appears that for years, the landfill which was authorized to accept only construction waste had also been taking in barrels of toxic crud, including acrylonitrile, which caused a ruckus when it was commercially used in Calumet City.
In 1979, the city tried to ban the use of acrylonitrile (also known as vinyl cyanide) by Cosden Oil and Chemical Co., although in 1981 the City Council OK’d its use in making high-impact plastics often found in vehicles.
But even before that, drums of hazardous waste were being trucked in from Michigan and buried alongside the construction debris at the Feddeler landfill, just west of Lowell on Ind. 2. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has estimated as many as 500 drums were buried on the site, and have rusted away and are now leaching cyanide into the ground.
It was not so long ago when it was standard practice for refineries to dispose of waste oil by digging a pit in the sand and pouring the oil in, then covering it up again. Anyone in Whiting can tell you heavy rains can result in a basement oil slick to this day.
Some people want to blame Gov. Mitch Daniels, but the former owner of the landfill, Robert Feddeler, closed the landfill in 2001 before Daniels took office.
Others want to blame former County Commissioner Ernie Niemeyer, whose house sits within a stone’s throw of the site, but that’s absurd as well. Aside from the fact Niemeyer was not a commissioner until the 1980s — after the waste was trucked in — he’s unlikely to have approved toxic dumping virtually in his own backyard.
Finger-pointing isn’t going to be of any use now, although it would be satisfying to know who was to blame to see if they can be assessed cleanup costs.
The first priority has got to be identifying what waste is present and doing what they can to prevent it from fouling the air and water table any further.
Or they could go the cheaper route and change their town’s name to South Whiting.
The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at markk@nwitimes.com or (219) 933-4170.

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