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Chanute Air Force Base

Site Summary

November 2013

NPL Status: Proposed in 2000

BRAC Listing: 1988 Round

Congressional District 15

House 104 / Senate 52

Districts Verified: November 18, 2013

Champaign County

Illinois EPA 0198170001

Champaign Region

Site Description

Total Acreage: 2,125

Lead Agency: U.S. Air Force

Support Agency/Lead Regulator: Illinois EPA

Related Documents

Chanute Air Force Base (AFB) was an Air Force training facility located in the east-central Illinois Village of Rantoul. The property has been divided into two operable units, Operable Unit 1 (OU-1) and Operable Unit 2 (OU-2), containing a total of 81 environmental sites. This division was made to prioritize property for expedited transfer, and was based on the assumption that properties within OU-1 contained a limited number of sites subject to remedial investigation and action pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, as amended (CERCLA or Superfund).

Site History

On May 23, 1917, the United States government signed a contract leasing 640 acres of agricultural land in Rantoul, Illinois, for a new aviation field to train World War I pilots. With the end of the war on November 11, 1918, the base’s function changed from a pilot training facility to a storage depot for aircraft engines, paint, and other miscellaneous surplus items. Between 1921 and 1926, Chanute Field experienced resurgence in activity, and in 1939 an additional 276 acres west of the airfield and east of Route 45 were acquired. Following construction in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Chanute Field became a state-of-the-art facility, well prepared to train ground crews for World War II. In the early 1950s, the OU-2 property was purchased and changes were made in the training offered to military personnel at Chanute AFB to include intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) training. A ballistic missile training building was constructed in 1959. Military flight operations were terminated at Chanute AFB in July 1971, at which time it became a non-flying training base. All military operations ceased in September 1993. Chanute AFB was selected for closured during Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 1988.

Investigative History / Contaminants

Section 120 of CERCLA and Executive Order 12580 require the U.S. Air Force to investigate and remediate past releases of contamination that may pose unacceptable risks to human health and the environment.

Hazardous materials commonly used at Chanute AFB included aviation and motor fuels; numerous petroleum products such as motor oil, lubricants, and hydraulic fluids; and cleaning solvents. Hazardous wastes generated at Chanute AFB included waste oils and fuels, oil/water separator sludge, solvent residues, and other chemical wastes. At the time of base closure, the base’s hazardous wastes were collected from all storage and designated accumulation points and disposed off-site at a permitted facility.

Primary sources of hazardous substances involved oil-water separators, underground storage tanks, fuel distribution lines, firing/skeet ranges, fire training pits, sludge pits or a combination of these items; and Landfills 1, 2, 3 and 4, containing wastes as described below:

  • Landfill 1 (operated from 1941 through 1960) received residential garbage, paper, wood, metal, aircraft parts, un-rinsed pesticide containers, construction/demolition debris, and various shop wastes, including solvents.
  • Landfill 2 (operated from early 1950s through 1967) received the same types of waste as Landfill 1. Four 55-gallon drums containing 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and/or 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and 50 one-ounce wax-encased sealed containers of zinc phosphide may have been disposed in Landfill 2. Leachate sampling later revealed the presence of 2,4-D but not 2,4,5-T.
  • Landfill 3 (1967 to 1970) received residential garbage, shop wastes, and possibly the four 55-gallon drums of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and/or 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Again, leachate sampling later revealed the presence of 2,4-D but not 2,4,5-T.
  • Landfill 4 (1970 to 1974) received residential garbage, shop wastes, and construction/demolition debris.

Wastes were sometimes burned at all four landfills and then deposited at depths ranging from 6 to 10 feet.

In December 2000, following submittal of a listing package by the Illinois EPA, the southeastern 300 acres of Chanute AFB (OU-2) was proposed for listing on the National Priorities List (NPL). The site has never gone final on the NPL, and remains a proposed NPL site. Recent progress has sufficiently reduced risks to human health and the environment such that Chanute AFB no longer warrants final NPL listing.

Human Health Risks

Human health risk assessments were conducted at all the CERCLA sites at Chanute AFB in order to assess risks to human health in accordance with CERCLA, the National Contingency Plan (NCP), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA’s) Risk Assessment Guidance for Superfund (RAGS). The Remedial Investigations indicated that unacceptable risks were present at some sites and further evaluation in a Feasibility Study was warranted. Remedial investigation showed that low levels of contamination present in SFC did not present an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment. Therefore, there are no restrictions on use at SFC.

Ecological Risks

Two adjacent ecosystems, Salt Fork Creek (SFC) and Heritage Lake, were investigated. SFC enters at the southwest corner of OU-2 from south of the base and flows in a northeasterly direction for approximately 3,000 feet, parallel to South Perimeter Road. The length of the on-base segment of SFC is approximately 1.9 miles. Essentially, the entire area of the base lies within the SFC watershed. The base storm sewer system, numerous subsurface drainage tile systems, surface runoff, seeps, and surface drainage ditches are intermittent tributaries to the creek.

Early and limited investigations at Heritage Lake, an artificial lake constructed in 1984 near Landfills 1 and 2, revealed the presence of mercury-contaminated fish. The Air Force initially restricted fishing at Heritage Lake to “catch-and-release” only, but further investigation showed that the low levels of contamination did not present an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment. Heritage Lake is once again open for recreation and fishing with no restrictions on use.

Remediation Activities

Remediation activities successfully completed to date include:

  • Installation of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle C-compliant caps on Landfills 1 through 4.
  • Removal of aboveground and underground storage tanks and associated contaminated soils.
  • Excavation of contaminated soil all areas of Chanute AFB including Building 932 and a former Fire Training Area.
  • Treatment of 60,000 tons of fuel-contaminated soil with Low Temperature Volatilization, a process that destroys petroleum products. The treated soil was then used in the backfilling process of the excavated areas.
  • Demolition of Water Towers 120, 122 and 968 and renovation of Water Tower 44 to address lead-based paint concerns.
  • In December 2008, the Air Force awarded a $38.7 million Firm Fixed Price Contract to Shaw Environmental to remediate the 47 remaining sites (42 CERCLA and 5 non-CERCLA sites) at the former base (34 sites had been previously closed). With the exception of some additional soil removal driven by the Air Force’s 2011 Accelerated Site Completion Policy, retreatment of groundwater in some contamination areas, and operation, maintenance and monitoring (OM&M) activities, the remediation work at Chanute AFB is complete.
  • Sites that have been closed under the Shaw contract include:
    • Salt Fork Creek (SD032)
    • Water Tower, Facility 968, (SS040)
    • Former (900 Area) Wastewater Treatment Plant, (SS042)
    • University of Illinois Boring Sites, (SS046)
    • Building 705 Gravel Pad/Solvent Drum Rinse Area, (SS049)
    • Building 720 Maintenance Squadron Solvent/Acid Above-ground Storage Tank, (ST050)
    • Coal Storage Area (CSA) 1, (SS053)
    • Firefighting Demonstration Area 1, (FT058)
    • Firefighting Demonstration Area 4, (FT061)
    • Firefighting Demonstration Area 5, (FT062)
    • Aircraft Washrack (Near Hangar 2), (SS066)
    • Water Towers, Facilities 120 & 122, (SS071)
    • Water Tower, Facility 44, (SS072)
  • The following site has achieved Response Complete status under the Shaw contract. Response Complete means cleanup goals have been achieved for the designated land use; however, waste remaining in-place precludes unlimited use/unrestricted exposure (i.e., residential use):
    • Skeet Range 1 (Near Building 805), (SS064) – additional soil removal to permit closure to unrestricted (residential) use is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2013.
  • The following landfills have been capped, but they will not be considered Response Complete until the Final Record of Decision (ROD) is signed, expected to occur at the end of 2013. Periodic maintenance and monitoring of the surface and groundwater are conducted to ensure the caps remain effective:
    • Landfill 1 (LF016)
    • Landfill 2 (LF017)
    • Landfill 3 (LF018)
    • Landfill 4 (LF019)

Shaw achieved Last Remedy in Place status for all its sites on September 28, 2012. Eight of the 42 CERCLA sites assigned to Shaw were determined to need no cleanup work and have been closed. Cleanup at seven additional sites is complete and closure has been approved. Significant progress is being made at the remaining 27 active CERCLA sites. Reports recommending closure are being prepared for five; four are in rebound monitoring prior to consideration for closure; five, including the landfills, continue to be monitored; and 13 were recently re-injected in an effort to expedite groundwater cleanup. All re-injection sites show expected decreases in contaminant concentrations and are on track to achieve Operating Properly and Successfully (OPS) by early spring 2014. All sites except the four landfills and a former Fire Training Area will be closed with no restrictions on future use.

In addition progress is being made at the five non-CERCLA sites. Reports recommending closure are being prepared for three, while monitoring continues at the other two. These sites will also be closed with no restrictions on future use.

In 2011, the Air Force completed a Five-Year Review for Landfills 1, 2 and 3. The review indicated that the remedies (caps) for these landfills remained protective.

Reuse Efforts

A ROD for reuse of the base was signed in 1991. The Chanute AFB runways were leased to the Village of Rantoul and are used by the Rantoul National Aviation Center (also known as Frank Elliott Field). Several small industries and warehousing operations utilize existing buildings and Cingular Wireless (now AT &T) occupies a new office building at the closed base. The Illinois Army National Guard operates the Lincoln’s Challenge Academy for at-risk youths in existing buildings, and is constructing a new campus.

In 2005, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) gave the Village of Rantoul a $100,000 grant for economic development planning. In June 2006, the Chanute-Rantoul National Aviation Center Redevelopment Commission was formed via Illinois legislation to address redevelopment issues. The Illinois EPA is an ex-officio member of the Commission, which meets occasionally to discuss redevelopment opportunities.

In 2011, the Air Force and Village of Rantoul signed a Memorandum of Agreement to finalize transfer of remaining property and utilities via a combination of Economic Development Conveyance (EDC) and Federal Aviation Administration sponsored Public Benefit Conveyance (PBC). All property transfer actions are on track for completion in 2014.

Community Involvement

Members of the community can become involved in the environmental program at Chanute AFB by attending the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meetings held at the Rantoul Business Center (Former Smith Hall) located at 601 South Century Boulevard in Rantoul. The RAB acts as a focal point for the exchange of information between the Air Force, Illinois EPA, and the local community regarding restoration activities. With consultation of stakeholders and considering public input, the RAB will be adjourned once all the remediation decisions are made. After the RAB is adjourned, the Air Force and Illinois EPA will continue to be available to hear concerns from citizens regarding the cleanup.

Past Issues

Illinois EPA supported the listing of OU-2 on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) during 2000 to 2002 time period. At that time, Illinois EPA believed listing was necessary in order to achieve cleanup. The site was proposed for the NPL but was not listed final. Since then, extensive progress with investigation and cleanup has caused the final NPL listing option to be unnecessary.

Current Issues

The Air Force’s 2011 Accelerated Site Completion Policy led to a decision to investigate and assess contamination at twelve sites so the property would be available for unrestricted (residential) use, including the Water Tower at Facility 44 (lead) and Skeet Range 1 (lead and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (from the coal tar bitumen used as a binder in clay pigeons)).

The Air Force has agreed to conduct asbestos abatement and demolition of the steam plant, steam tunnel vaults and White Hall. Demolition of the steam plant and steam tunnel vaults is scheduled to be complete in 2015. Work on White Hall cannot begin until the Economic Development Conveyance (EDC) is signed. The Air Force and Village of Rantoul are conducting weekly conference calls to facilitate this work and the EDC.

With the exception of additional soil removal mentioned above, retreatment of groundwater in 13 contamination areas, and operation, maintenance and monitoring (OM&M) activities, the remediation work at Chanute AFB is complete.

On August 22, 2013, a member of the RAB once again raised the issue of the alleged use and disposal of Agent Orange at Chanute AFB. The RAB member cited Florida resident Mr. Michael Glasser as the source of his information. Mr. Glasser served at Chanute AFB as an entomology specialist in 1963 and 1964. Illinois EPA interviewed Mr. Glasser on August 28, 2013. Mr. Glasser reported using the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and asserted they were the same as Agent Orange. 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T were commercially available herbicides widely used in the 1960s, and 2,4-D is still in use today. Use of 2,4,5-T has since been banned. Agent Orange was a 50-50 mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T manufactured by Dow Chemical, Monsanto and Diamond Shamrock during the Vietnam War. The 2,4,5-T used to produce Agent Orange was contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) , which was formed as a byproduct of the high temperature chemical reaction process that was used to synthesize 2,4,5-T.

On October 16, 2013, Linda K. May, who introduced herself as an international toxics expert, reported that private wells located south of Chanute AFB had been sealed due to contamination by dioxins. Ms. May requested that someone resample these wells for dioxins. The Air Force sampled residential wells south of the former base from 1998 to 2004. The Air Force detected trace levels of dioxins and furans, but determined this to be instrument noise rather than an accurate representation of water quality. Similar concentrations of dioxins and furans were found in laboratory blank analyses on several occasions. Laboratory blanks are samples of clean water and serve as a quality control check of the laboratory. Detection of contamination in a laboratory blank indicates there was lab contamination or an analysis error. Had the detections been determined to be legitimate and not attributed to laboratory error, they would have been below the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), i.e., below the drinking water standard.

The residential wells draw their water from Illinoian-age glacial deposits. No dioxin or furan contamination has been detected in the Illinoian aquifer on the former base.

In February 2002, the Illinois Department of Public Health provided a Health Consultation for residential wells in the Chanute AFB area. Sampling for this consultation was conducted by the Air Force between 1998 and 2001. This report cited sporadic detections of several contaminants, including dioxins and furans, but concentrations of dioxins and furans did not exceed the comparison values that would trigger further assessment. Only sodium was detected at levels that might be of health concern. The conclusion of the report was that, under current conditions, exposures were not at levels expected to cause adverse health effects, the residential wells south of Chanute AFB were categorized as “no apparent public health hazard.” The 2008 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Public Health Assessment examined the possibility of off-site drinking water contamination. The ATSDR evaluated the sodium concentrations and reported no concerns about healthy residents drinking water containing these concentrations of sodium, but additionally concluded that sodium concentrations in one private well were at levels of concern for people with high blood pressure, heart conditions, or following a sodium-restricted diet. To Illinois EPA’s knowledge, these private wells were not sealed, because there is no indication that on-base contamination has contaminated off-site groundwater. No private well owners have contacted Illinois EPA about having their wells sampled.

On October 16, 2013, Ms. May expressed concern that the Former Playground Area (AOC120) was contaminated with dioxins but was not cleaned up. In 1997, a resident found nuggets containing 46% lead within AOC120. Water mains were reportedly dismantled at the site during the 1950s. Interviews indicated leadite, a sealing compound, was commonly used at the base for plumbing and piping from the 1930s through the early 1950s. The nuggets may have been leadite deposited at the site due to water main dismantling activities. The Air Force removed playground equipment with lead-based paint in the late 1990s. Potential deposition of lead-based paint from the playground equipment was also a concern. To address these concerns, the Air Force conducted a Preliminary Assessment/Site Inspection (PA/SI) of the site between 2001 and 2003.

A geophysical survey was completed in attempt to identify anomalies that may have been lead nuggets. No lead nuggets were observed during the PA/SI. 49 surface soil samples and 49 shallow subsurface soil samples were collected for analysis. All results were well below the human-health risk-based screening level of 400 mg/kg. The Air Force has no documentation of the alleged dioxin contamination and none has been provided to the Air Force or Illinois EPA. The ATSDR Public Health Assessment concluded that exposure to surface soil “does not pose a public health hazard under current residential and recreational reuse plans…”.

On October 16, 2013, concerns were also expressed about contamination and safety hazards at Heritage Lake. Heritage Lake was transferred to the Village of Rantoul in 2008 after the Air Force’s Remedial Investigation and No Further Action Record of Decision were completed which concluded that no CERCLA release to surface water or sediments from Air Force activities has occurred. The ATSDR Public Health Assessment recommends that sensitive populations (pregnant women and children) avoid eating more than one fish meal per week from Heritage Lake, due to mercury in the fish. Illinois has a state-wide advisory for predatory fish due to mercury, which advises people to avoid eating more than one fish meal per week. Mercury contamination comes from burning coal and industrial waste. It enters water bodies through air deposition and runoff. There is no indication that the mercury found in fish at Heritage Lake is due to Air Force activities. Drowning and other lake safety hazards, also expressed as a concern, are outside the jurisdiction of Illinois EPA.

On October 16, 2013, Ms. May alleged that Agent Orange, Agent Blue and Agent White were used at Chanute Air Force Base. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a database of locations where Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides, including Agents Blue and White, was were used or stored within the United States. No Illinois sites appear in this database.

On October 16, 2013, Ms. May cited Admiral Elmo Zumwalt’s May 5, 1990 report to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Agent Orange as a source of information to support the claim that Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides were used at Chanute Air Force Base and other military bases throughout the United States. The Zumwalt report does not substantiate Ms. May’s assertion. Furthermore, Chanute AFB is not identified in The History of the US Department of Defense Programs for the Testing, Evaluation, and Storage of Tactical Herbicides (Young, December 2006).

Also on October 16, 2013, Ms. May reported that arsenic was present at Chanute AFB as a result of use of Agent Blue. Arsenic was detected in private wells in the area, but arsenic is a ubiquitous contaminant in Illinois and there is no documentation showing that any military tactical herbicides were used or stored at Chanute Air Force Base. The arsenic concentrations were not high enough to be a health concern. No documentation has been provided to the Air Force or to Illinois EPA to substantiate the claim that Agent Blue was used or stored at Chanute AFB.


Illinois EPA Project Manager

Christopher Hill

(217) 782-9292
Illinois EPA Community Relations

Jay Timm

(217) 557-4972