An undetermined amount of asbestos remains in hard-to-reach areas of the former Pillsbury Mills plant in Springfield after a federal cleanup that took nine months at a cost of $1.8 million.
Based on the information, a Sangamon County judge on Wednesday refused to lift an injunction blocking owners from the 18-acre site on the city’s north side. Environmental regulators say remaining asbestos is not a public-health hazard, so long as the materials are not disturbed. Circuit Judge John Madonia set another hearing for Dec. 18 on the request from partners in P. Mills LLC to be granted access.
Crews from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed more than 2,200 tons of asbestos-contaminated debris and 1,160 cubic yards of bulk asbestos from the site, as well as toxic chemicals and waste oil.
Project coordinator Kevin Turner, who was not part of the court hearing, said conditions were too dangerous for workers in some badly deteriorated buildings. There are more than two-dozen structures on site, which has remained abandoned since the flour milling operation shut down in 2001.
“It’s an unknowable amount, as I did a bulk asbestos removal, not an asbestos abatement,” Turner said of the remaining contamination.
Abatement, said Turner, requires a much more extensive cleanup at much higher cost. The remaining asbestos, he added, is concentrated in building interiors and is not considered an airborne threat.
“In terms of neighborhoods, no,” said Turner. “In terms of scrapping operations or going in there, absolutely it’s a hazard.”
P. Mills LLC partner Joseph Chernis IV said after the Wednesday hearing he believes the company should be allowed to resume work at the site after the federal EPA declared the “cleanup” completed.
“What has really been accomplished here? We’ve spent $1.8 million of taxpayers’ money,” said Chernis. Chernis said he has offered 45 percent of proceeds from salvage materials to go toward additional cleanup costs.
“The only thing they keep responding back with is ’Where is the rest of the money going? So, clearly this is about money. It’s not about cleaning that place up,” said Chernis.
Chernis is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 11 in U.S. District Court in Springfield after pleading guilty to improper asbestos cleanup at the Pillsbury site and to making false statements in the circuit-court case.
Springfield Fire Marshal Chris Richmond said after the hearing that city and state officials are working to secure the site, now that federal cleanup crews have moved on. Neighbors have complained over the years about trespassing and illegal salvaging.
“We know the site has a significant past history of, other than the ownership, of folks in the community breaking into or trespassing in that facility for a variety of purposes,” said Richmond. “In some cases, it’s been young folks, juveniles, curious about an old factory complex.”
Richmond said asbestos caution signs have been updated and fences repaired, but city and state officials would continue to monitor the property. Richmond, too, said he does not consider the remaining contamination a threat outside the plant.
“If those buildings remain just the way they are, it’s highly unlikely it will be problematic,” said Richmond. “It is, however, very problematic with the remaining asbestos fibers. They would need to be abated for the property to either be reused or demolished.”