Federal Budget Impasse Could Halt Massive Asbestos Clean-up

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Both local officials and area residents are concerned that a large EPA-led asbestos clean-up project at the Pillsbury Mills site in Springfield, Illinois is going to have to cease later this month, the result of a federal budget impasse that might mean all such EPA projects will no longer receive the funding needed to get the job done.

EPA's massive asbestos clean-up at Pillsbury plantIndeed, funding for the $1.8 million clean-up could expire on April 28, reports the State Journal-Register.

That’s the same time a temporary federal spending plan expires…and no one is sure what will happen after that date.

“We don’t know what the funding levels are going to be. If Congress does not come to an understanding, we will likely have to shut down,” said Kevin Turner, EPA on-site coordinator for the Pillsbury Mills project.

The massive asbestos clean-up has been a long time coming at the site of the once-bustling 750,000-square-foot Pillsbury processing plant that sits in Springfield’s north end, very close to a residential area.

Just a few months ago, workers began to clean up such toxins as not only asbestos but also mercury and other chemicals that were used in lighting and cooling systems.

The project was expected to take several months for completion but now, if work is stalled, there’s no predicting when it might be completed.

Congress approved the aforementioned temporary spending plan back in December, allowing agencies like the EPA to continue operating through the end of this month.

President Trump submitted a new preliminary budget on March 1, and in that plan, the EPA is one of the hardest hit as far as loss of funding is concerned.

More will be known when Trump releases a more detailed spending plan on May 1. In Springfield, they’ll be keeping their fingers crossed.

Thankfully, the EPA’s Turner said the clean-up has been going well so far, despite some delays due to adverse weather conditions. He notes that most outside asbestos has been removed and taken to landfills.

Now, the team is working inside the massive plant to remove toxic materials found within. Turner says they’re working floor by floor and, so far, there have been no surprises or hurdles.

Area residents like John Keller, Pillsbury Mills Neighborhood Association president, have been pleased by the progress so far as well and hope the funding remains set.

They’ve been staring at the slowly dilapidating site since the plant closed 16 years ago and they are anxious for the work to be done and for someone to consider buying the land and repurposing it.

In the meantime, they worry that their families will one day suffer from exposure to hazardous materials such as asbestos. Diseases related to asbestos usually take decades to appear so, at this time, it is difficult to predict who may have been negatively affected by living or working in close proximity to the crumbling plant.