Open Letter to Simmons Cancer Institute Regarding High Incidence of Cancer in Montgomery County

Simmons Cancer Institute at SIU
Dr. David Steward, Director of
Internal Medicine-Population Science
P.O. Box 19636
Springfield, IL 62794-9636

February 23, 2013

Dear Dr. Steward:

Montgomery County Cancer Association has established a fine tradition of raising funds to help cancer patients and finance cancer research.  Richard Small announced recently that MCCA donated $30,000 to Simmons Cancer Institute to study why there is such a high incidence of cancer in Montgomery County.  To help you with historical and current background information, I have listed some of the most harmful environmental influences on Montgomery County’s air, land, and water.

  1. Eagle-Picher Corporation in Hillsboro, IL was placed on the Superfund list in September, 2007 by the U. S. EPA.  In 1916, the Picher Lead Company of Missouri merged with Eagle White Lead to form Eagle-Picher Lead.  This merger made it the second largest producer of lead and zinc products in the world.  It declared bankruptcy protection in January 1991 and for the second time in April 2005.  The clean up of the contaminated area is in the preliminary stages and will be covered by federal funds.
  2. American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) in Taylor Springs was added to the National Priorities List of Superfund hazardous waste sites on September 2006.  Sites on the NPL are eligible for added resources under the Superfund program.  The 181-acre site contained a zinc smelter and zinc oxide production facility.  The extensive pollution on the property dates back to 1911 and includes contaminated soil and two production waste slag piles containing lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other metals.  This site is in the watershed of the Middle Fork of Shoal Creek.
  3. Hillsboro, as well as many other sites in Illinois, is contaminated with coal tar residues left over from manufacturing gas from coal during World War II.  In 1995, the area north of the former ice plant adjacent to Illinois Power (now Ameren Power) was established as a hazardous site by the EPA due to coal tar contamination. Coal tar is known to contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that can cause cancer and other health problems.  Coal tar can leach toxic materials such as PAHs, benzene, benzo (a) pyrene, pyrenes, and toluenes into waterways.  Coal tar based pavement sealant was found to be the major source of PAHs found in 40 urban lakes studied by the U.S. Geological Survey.  The study titled, “Coal Tar Sealant Largest Source of PAHs in Lakes,” was released 12/1/2010.
  4. U. S. Minerals, LLC in Coffeen, IL receives coal combustion bottom ash from Ameren Energy Generating Company-Coffeen Station.  The bottom ash is stored on site until it is processed. This includes drying, crushing and screening in order to make products for roofing shingles, blasting abrasives, road base materials, and filler for seal coating, plastic, paint, and ceramic tile.  No additional ash has been shipped from Ameren since May 2002 although at one time the site contained eight acres of 45-feet deep stockpiled ash and eight more acres paved with ash.Residents living near U.S. Minerals petitioned the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to determine if the contaminants in air and dust were a health risk for them.  McCrone Associates did a comparative study on the coal dust from U.S. Minerals to the dust from an outside table off site and to the dust found inside the house.  The conclusion was that the particle types matched for the outside dust and to a lesser degree the inside dust. The American Testing Company analyzed the dust for 10 metals and concluded the metal levels were consistent with levels available in Illinois soil.  There were no air emission data, stack testing, or organic analyses like PAHs performed.  Illinois Department of Public Health concluded that exposure to metals in ambient air near U.S. Minerals was indeterminate since no air sampling data exist.There was a news release in December 2010 from Region 5 of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration that cited U.S. Minerals LLC for 28 violations and a fine of $396,000.  The company has received serious citations in prior years and this time the citation was listed as willfully exposing its workers to dangerously high levels of hazardous dust, and not providing adequate breathing protection and training for workers at its facility in Coffeen.
  5. Coffeen Power Station is a coal-fired power plant owned and operated by Ameren Energy Resources located south of Hillsboro.  At the end of 2009, Ameren announced it had spent $1 billion for the installation of scrubbers at two of its facilities, Coffeen Power Station and Duck Creek Station.  Scrubbers reduce nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions.  In 2006, there were 22,007 tons of sulfur dioxide and 11,680 tons of nitrogen oxides emitted by the Coffeen Power Plant.  Coffeen Lake that cools the plant operations has mercury contamination and fish consumption should be limited.  In 2005, 80 lb. of mercury was emitted at the plant.  Data provided by the contaminants emitted by coal-fired plants, the fine particle pollution of 2.5 microns is considered one of the most damaging to health.  In 2010, Abt Associates was commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force to quantify the deaths and other health effects resulting from fine particle emitted by coal-fired plants similar to Coffeen Power Plant.  Abt’s study reported that each year over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of reported cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, and pneumonia are contributable to U.S. coal plant emissions.  Fine particle contaminants are a mixture composed of soot, heavy metals, and oxides of sulfur and nitrogen.  PAHs are not monitored, although they are the most carcinogenic compounds found in coal. There is no ambient air monitoring station in Montgomery County to document the 2.5 micron particulate emission of Coffeen Power Plant.
  6. Deer Run Mine is located in Hillsboro just a short distance from a nursing home, day care, and Hillsboro Hospital that is so close to the hospital that the air filters are contaminated with coal dust.  This mine exposes the residents to toxic materials in coal products such as arsenic, mercury, selenium, chromium, beryllium, lead, and sulfur and nitrogen oxides.  PAHs are not monitored locally or nationally, but are present in coal dust, coal slurry, coal tar, and coal combustion waste.  The city leaders must not have realized the damage to health caused by coal or they would not have promoted the mine, knowing it was to be located in the city so close to residents.  In addition to coal dust, on occasions the processed coal spontaneously combusts.  Smoldering coal produces noxious fumes, smoke, and particulate matter.The community is also exposed to contaminated runoff from the mine site.  There was an exemption given to Deer Run so rain water and spray water at railroad loading docks and roads are not confined to the mine site.   Another source for polluted mine water in Hillsboro comes from Structure Five.  This body of water collects overflow from mine outfalls and then drains into Central Park Creek.  This flows through the area that has the high school on one side and the middle school on the other side and then proceeds through the community.Over time the 80 ft. high hazard coal slurry structure impoundment will leak toxic chemicals off the mine site resulting in surface and ground water contamination.  Failure of the impoundment can cause loss of life and considerable property damage. The impoundment will never be removed and 5-6 more will be constructed over the 20-30 year life of the mine.  This means that there is a permanent source of water contamination forever in Hillsboro.  The watershed of Hillsboro and Middle Fork of Shoal Creek will help to distribute the mine pollution farther downstream affecting other communities.

A summary of coal’s effect on health can be found at:

There is also an informative book titled, “The Silent Epidemic:  Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health by Alan H. Lockwood, MD.  I appreciate your efforts to help the residents in Hillsboro and Montgomery County to escape from the devastation of cancer.

cc: Chairman of the Montgomery County Board, Mayor of Hillsboro, Montgomery County Cancer Association, and the Director of Montgomery County Public Health.