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Waste Management goes before County Board, offers to pay medical bills

SYCAMORE – A day after an odor from the Waste Management landfill sickened more than 70 students and teachers at Cortland Elementary School, a company representative told the DeKalb County Board that it was an isolated incident the company would work to prevent.

“This is the only time this has occurred in the last six years, and an action plan is being formulated to avoid this from occurring in the future,” said Dale Hoekstra, director of operations for the Illinois/Missouri Valley post collection operations for Waste Management, the firm that owns and operates the DeKalb County Landfill.

“We’ve been a part of the community since 1991, we have an excellent environmental record and our intent is to continue to be a good neighbor,” Hoekstra told the County Board on Wednesday.

The landfill’s location within a mile of Cortland Elementary has been a source of worry for parents. The planned expansion of the landfill, which would add 349 acres and allow it to accept as many as 1,800 tons of trash a day, only adds to the concerns. The landfill now can accept up to 300 tons of trash daily.

County officials have targeted fees charged to dump trash at the landfill for expanding the county jail. Waste Management officials have said that the landfill expansion, which has been approved by the IEPA and the County Board, could be complete by the end of this year or early 2015.

Hoekstra said that despite Tuesday’s incident, landfill gases that are typically of concern were not detected.

He said workers at the site wear monitors to test for levels of methane, oxygen, hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide. He also said there are seven monitors around the site.

“None of those monitors went off,” Hoekstra said.

The patients who went to the emergency room at Kishwaukee Community Hospital on Tuesday were treated for low-level exposure to carbon monoxide, hospital officials said.

In response to questions from board members, Hoekstra said an inspector from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency inspected the site Wednesday, although Waste Management won’t receive the results of the survey for some time.

Board member Mark Pietrowski, District 3, asked if Waste Management planned to assist with medical bills incurred from emergency room visits Tuesday.

“Yes, that’s part of the cost we will reimburse,” Hoekstra said. “As those costs come to the school district, we will address them and deal with them.”

Cortland resident Chris Hunter expressed concerns about exposure to potential toxic gases.

“I still haven’t heard what residents were exposed to,” Hunter said. “What damage has been done?”

DeKalb resident Mac McIntyre said he believed that given the number of people who sought medical treatment, Tuesday’s incident qualified as a major event.

“This is a life, health and safety issue facing, not only the children and staff at the school, but people sleeping in their beds in the subdivision that surrounds the school,” McIntyre said.

“If you do the work when school is not in session, people may not realize they are at risk.”

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