Fact Sheet 4
It has been a year since the explosion and subsequent fire that destroyed much of the Formosa Plastics Corporation, Illinois plant in Illiopolis (between Springfield and Decatur). Since that time, certain work has occurred to make the site more stable and safer for site workers as well as the community. Further activities related to demolition will be happening this year.
Long-term site work will include a comprehensive investigation of the site to fully characterize environmental contaminants. That will be undertaken once the demolition work has been accomplished. Illinois EPA continues to have a presence on the site and will be periodically updating the site contact list about activities there.
Have all the hazardous chemicals been removed from the site?
No. Last year, Formosa drained the large gas spheres, which contained vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). This raw material was pumped into rail tank cars and hauled away for use by other plants. Vinyl acetate was also removed from storage tanks and shipped off-site. Polyvinyl chloride pellets, the non-hazardous product of plant processes, were sold to other companies or disposed in a landfill. Some drums of chemicals and asbestos-containing debris were also removed from the site.
What chemicals remain on the site?
Illinois EPA does not yet know the extent of chemicals that remain. Most of the chemicals were burned in the fire. Illinois EPA is asking Formosa to identify what chemicals are still on site once certain portions of the site are safe to enter. This will occur after some of the demolition and shoring work. It is probable that only a small number of containers of chemicals still remain on-site.
A temporary pipeline has been installed to collect any VCM or vinyl acetate remaining in tanks and vessels. This gas will be burned in the Trane incinerator on-site.
How will remaining chemicals be handled?
Once chemicals are identified, they will be sampled and analyzed. Results from those tests will dictate disposition of the chemicals. Some may be sold to other plants; others may have to be disposed as hazardous or special waste; some may be used to augment the wastewater treatment system; and some will simply be burned on-site.
When chemicals are burned in the incinerator, does that produce hazardous air emissions?
The Trane incinerator employs a scrubber unit to capture gases from burning chemicals. Emissions from the Trane are tightly controlled and monitored. Illinois EPA staff will be on the site during the work. Illinois EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator has the authority to stop work if problems develop.
What are the tank cars for that were recently brought to the site?
Formosa needed to purge the remainder of liquid waste and a small amount of gas from the large gasholder on the north side of the plant. The liquid was sent to the dozen or so tank cars to be disposed of appropriately. The residual gas was pumped to the Trane incinerator and burned.
Are the large spheres completely empty now?
Yes. All residual VCM material was purged and burned in the Trane incinerator. The spheres have been filled with nitrogen, a non-flammable gas.
When demolition work begins, should I be concerned about demolition debris, including asbestos, blowing off the site?
Blowing debris or particulates should not be a problem. As part of the demolition work plans for the site, contractors will spray water when working with asbestos or other materials that might generate dust. This should effectively keep the materials on the site. In addition, there will be daily monitoring of asbestos in the work zones.
Does Illinois EPA monitor run-off and other plant discharges from the site?
Yes. Formosa conducts daily testing of the wastewater treat- ment system to monitor its discharge to the unnamed stream that flows southeast of the plant. In addition to all wastewater from the industrial operations, all on-site storm water runoff is retained and treated.
Shortly after the April 2004 incident and currently, the effluent has been in compliance with the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit that regulates discharges from the facility. Illinois EPA staff continues to monitor the wastewater treatment system on a weekly basis.
What can you tell us about the water quality in the ditches and streams that run south of the site?
Since the April 2004 incident, the Illinois EPA has routinely collected samples at the wastewater treatment system discharge location, upstream, and at four stream locations downstream from the Formosa plant. Sample results to date have shown low concentrations of site-related contaminants in the plant discharge, but no levels exceeding state criteria for human health or aquatic life protection have been found in downstream waters.
Illinois EPA staff has resumed the bi-weekly chemical sampling. This fall, Illinois EPA staff will perform a facility-related stream survey that includes chemical monitoring and a biological survey of the stream.
Has Illinois EPA tested for site-related chemicals in the groundwater that supplies private wells in the area?
Yes. Illinois EPA accompanied a contractor for Formosa to take groundwater samples from monitoring wells on site and at one private well down gradient from the site.
Tests of the on-site monitoring wells continue to show volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), such as vinyl chloride, and some levels of metals. The private well test did not appear to show any site-related chemicals.
When will the site be completely investigated for chemical contamination?
For the most part, the remedial investigation won’t fully start until the demolition activities are completed. Then, Formosa will submit a work plan to Illinois EPA for the site investigation based on current site conditions at the time. A limited number of pre-demolition samples have been collected and analyzed.
Is the state able to assist the Village of Illiopolis with rerouting the water mains from the Formosa site for the Public Water System?
Yes. From a news release on February 22, 2005 by the Governor’s Office: “$200,000 in Opportunity Returns grants have been awarded to the Village of Illiopolis. The grants will be used to redirect the community's water supply… Currently, the water main is routed underneath Formosa's facility before it proceeds into the village. With the state's support, the water main will be rerouted from plant property to along Route 36.” One half the money came from Illinois EPA and one half was provided by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Illinois EPA has established a public repository for site-related information at the Illiopolis/Niantic Public Library District at Sixth and Mary Streets in Illiopolis. As Illinois EPA receives reports related to the investigation, monitoring and cleanup, we will make these items available in the repository (in the library reference section) where residents may view and copy them at their convenience. The library hours are Monday and Friday – 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday – 1:00 to 8:00 p.m., Wednesday – 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Saturday – 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Illinois EPA will make updates to the web page for the Village of Illiopolis. You may find this fact sheet and other updates at
For more information, you may contact:
Carol Fuller, Community Relations Coordinator
Illinois EPA, Office of Community Relations
Joe Dombrowski, Project Manager
Illinois EPA State Sites Unit