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NIU calls cleanup team after oil seen in Kishwaukee River

DeKALB – An environmental cleanup crew was called to Northern Illinois Public Radio’s main office in DeKalb on Thursday after hydraulic oil leaked into sump pits and was pumped into the Kishwaukee River, officials said.

Northern Illinois University officials were notified Wednesday night of a malfunctioning elevator inside the building at 801 N. First St., said Bill Nicklas, vice president of operations and community relations. Workers later discovered the oil leak, which was coming from a tear inside a bladder that helps the elevator function properly. 

Hydraulic oil was dripping into a sump pit underneath the building, Nicklas said. The building’s sump pump discharges excess water into a storm drain, which leads to the nearby river. 

A passerby notified officials of the problem after seeing a glossy residue in the river near the building. The elevator first started malfunctioning last weekend.

“We put a boom out, which absorbed what we could see of the residue,” Nicklas said. “I think we got it all, but we have to get the pit cleaned and scoured, and ready to pump water again.” 

Workers from Loves Park-based Trans Environmental Ltd. have installed a water containment system to prevent any more oil from entering the river. 

That includes using a hose that dumps the discharged water into 50-gallon drums, Nicklas said. The water is then disposed properly by the cleanup crew. 

“With the rainy weather, the sump continues to run and we don’t want it pumping any more into the river,” he said. “It’s not the final solution – we have to get the elevator fixed, get the residue out and hopefully get the all-clear.” 

NIU officials had contacted the DeKalb Sanitary District about possibly disposing of the water in the sewers, Nicklas said, but that request was denied.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency as well as other relevant agencies have been notified of the incident. 

Officials also plan to place a grease trap at the bottom of the pit that would act as a fail-safe if a similar leak were to occur. 

“This is the first time we have had such a leak since we owned the property,” Nicklas said. “We’d like to get the elevator fixed by the end of the week, and the [pit] cleaned up early next week. The leak is contained now and that has been the case since [Wednesday].”

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