Skip to main content

Fact Sheet 2

Environmental Investigations – Progress Update, Fall 2005

Fact Sheet #2

November 2005

Blue Island, Illinois


In March of 2004, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office signed an enforceable Consent Order with The PREMCOR Refining Group (Premcor) requiring that Premcor perform environmental investigations at their former Blue Island refinery. Valero Energy Corporation purchased Premcor on September 1, 2005. The recent purchase of Premcor by Valero does not affect Premcor’s Consent Order commitments; their environmental investigations continue pursuant to the order. This is the second in a series of fact sheets available in both English and Spanish describing the progress of these investigations.

The Former Premcor Refinery site occupies nearly 156 acres on the north side of the Calumet-Sag Channel between the communities of Blue Island and Alsip. Premcor-owned parcels are within an area bounded to the north and east by 127th St., a northwest/southeast railroad line owned by CSX Railroad and industrial/commercial properties to the south by the Calumet-Sag Channel, and to the west by more industrial/commercial properties (see map on page 3). Formerly known as the Clark-Blue Island Refinery, refining operations began at the site with the Great Lakes Refinery in the mid-1920s and continued until Premcor decided to close their refining operations in 2001.

Off-Site Investigations

The Illinois EPA performed off-site residential area environmental investigations in the fall of 2001 and did not find levels of residual chemical contamination that could be expected to pose health threats to nearby residential communities from past refinery catalyst releases to the air. (See June 2004 fact sheet.)

In addition to the off-site work performed by the Illinois EPA in 2001, Premcor must identify the potential for residential and other private wells to exist in the immediate area. If data collected on site indicate that contaminated groundwater has moved off-site toward residential areas or has the potential to do so, Premcor will be required to identify nearby properties with wells. Premcor may also request permission to sample these wells to confirm that they are not contaminated by petroleum releases from the former refinery. On-site groundwater sampling to date indicates groundwater contamination is limited to the immediate, heavily industrialized area and has not moved near residential areas.

Area public water supplies are not at risk. However, if you own or know of a private well near the Premcor site that has not been properly abandoned (closed and sealed), please contact Mara McGinnis, Illinois EPA.

2004 and 2005 On-Site Investigations

The characterization of environmental contamination at the former refinery site began during the spring of 2004 and continues under terms of the Consent Order between the State and Premcor. The site has been divided into areas based on the types of activities that took place during the operational history of the site and on known or potential areas of like contamination.

The industrialized areas of the site (Areas 3, 4 and 5 delineated on the map) are undergoing the process known as Remedial Investigation (RI). These areas are being fully characterized by identifying the type and physical extent of contamination, area by area. Four other parcels of property owned by Premcor but not historically used for petroleum processing or storage (Areas 1, 2, 6 and 7) are also being assessed through a more streamlined process known as the Site Investigation (SI).

These area-specific investigations assess the condition of surface and subsurface soils, groundwater, surface water and sediments. Areas 3 and 4 (the Northwest and Southwest Terminals, respectively) have been the first to undergo the extensive Remedial Investigation; Areas 1 and 2 have been the first to undergo the Site Investigation process for parcels not historically used for petroleum processing or storage.

Due to the facility’s past history of petroleum releases in the two operating storage terminals (Areas 3 and 4) and Premcor’s pending renewal of their lease agreement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) for part of the Southwest Terminal, the Illinois EPA and Premcor agreed that the Terminals were the highest priority for environmental investigation. Investigations continue but data collected to date confirm that releases of petroleum products have occurred to soils and groundwater in the still-active storage terminals.

The investigations of the terminals have largely delineated the physical extent of dissolved hydrocarbon contamination (chemical constituents of petroleum products dissolved in the groundwater) in the Area 3 and 4 soils and groundwater. While additional investigation may be necessary to fully define the extent, based on these data, Area 3 groundwater contamination appears limited to Premcor and an adjacent industrialized property. Area 4 groundwater investigations are limited by the shore of the Calumet-Sag Channel. Premcor has been operating two product skimmer wells along the edge of the Channel to intercept free petroleum before it discharges along with groundwater into the waterway. Between November of 2001 and July of 2005, approximately 88 gallons of petroleum product have been collected from these two wells combined.

The Free-Phase Hydrocarbon Delineation Investigation, to identify what and where the petroleum products are that may be trapped in soil or bedrock at the top of the groundwater, has just begun. The results of this investigation will help Premcor and the State identify remedies for areas containing any free-phase hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons may act as a continuing source of groundwater contamination in the Terminal properties.

Next Steps: Further On-Site Investigations

In addition to the upcoming Free-Phase Hydrocarbon Delineation Investigation of the storage terminal Areas, the Remedial Investigation (RI) of the Triangle Property (Area 5), where the refining operations took place, began in mid-September. Demolition and dismantling of refinery units is nearly complete in this area enabling better and safer access for the field sampling teams. The initial sampling phases of the more streamlined Site Investigations (SIs) of Areas 1 and 2 are nearing completion. Areas 6 and 7 are currently undergoing the SI process as well. If contamination of these areas is found, they will be moved into the RI process for further characterization. Sediment sampling in waterways is scheduled to begin later in November.

Future Remedial Process

Once these environmental investigations have been completed, Premcor will prepare a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) report to fully describe the environmental problems of the RI parcels and the feasible options for remedies. Premcor will also prepare a report of the environmental assessments performed through the SI process and the Agency will determine whether the SI parcels can be given Site Investigation Certifications of Completion.

The Illinois EPA will review the RI/FS report and prepare a Proposed Plan describing the remedial options that address the contamination problems and identify the State’s preferred remedy. This document will be presented to the community during a public meeting and be made available for public comment. Once public comments are considered, the Proposed Plan will be finalized and a Record of Decision will be prepared that identifies the selected remedy. Then another enforceable Consent Order must be negotiated for the design and implementation of the remedy.

For more information:

A local information repository has been established at the Blue Island Public Library for residents and other interested persons to review the Consent Order and major environmental investigation documents. Fact sheets for the Former Premcor Refinery will also be available at the repository.

Please contact Mara McGinnis at 217-524-3288, or at Illinois EPA, Office of Community Relations, 1021 N. Grand Avenue East, Springfield, Illinois 62794-9276 if you have questions about the project, know of past waste disposal activities on the properties, wish to report a private well near the site, or to be added to or removed from the site mailing list.