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One Of Illinois' Cutest Towns Now Boasts a Superfund Site

By JoshMogerman in News on Sep 15, 2012 9:00PM

Mounds of Toxic Tailings from the Bautsch-Gray Mine outside of Galena, IL [USEPA]

Chicagoans hoofing it out to Galena have a new attraction to ogle while they are antiquing and checking out the popular river town: a newly designated Superfund site. The US Environmental Protection Agency announced that the long-shuttered Bautsch-Grey zinc and lead mine near “the City That Time Forgot” now stands as one of the nation’s most dangerous hazardous waste sites after leaching arsenic, heavy metals and lead into neighboring wells, aquifers and the creepily named "Smallpox Creek."

Unfortunately, the mine and its massive mounds of waste tailings are hardly alone in Illinois. Earlier in the week, Chicago Magazine profiled a half dozen area Superfund sites in a timely story. But that just scratches the surface, as the state hosts more than 60 Superfund cleanup projects, half of which are near us in northern Illinois (plus another 20 in nearby Northwest Indiana, yikes). Only California (98), Michigan (66), New Jersey (112), New York (87) and Pennsylvania (96) have more messes than we do. But, the news was not all bad for the Land of Lincoln, as the EPA withdrew a proposal to also list a Winnebago County site where ground water contamination problems have been sorted out.

The next step for the mine is one of the toughest: figuring out if there is anyone still around with responsibility for the contamination (and the remediation costs). If not, you and I are on the hook for the tab and it will take the feds years to find funding for the $1.5 million cleanup, making the announcement cold comfort for the folks in Galena, and similar areas throughout Chicagoland, stuck living near the blights on our landscape.