Cleanup crews finally began the cleanup of the abandoned Pillsbury Mills plant in Springfield, IL after more than 15 years of disuse.
The 18-acre facility first opened its doors in 1929 and produced products like baking flour, grits, yellow and white corn meal, Farina Health bran and Pillsbury Best flour for consumers. At its peak in the 1940’s, about 1,500 employees worked in the factory, but over time its success faded away before Pillsbury finally closed it down in 2001.
Since its closure, a number of different owners have attempted to conduct salvage operations, but these efforts have left broken windows, rusty equipment, metal pipes and piles of rubble strewn about the area. The safety and health hazards finally progressed to the point where the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is stepping in to intervene – according to officials, the issues were only getting worse after owners repeatedly ignored legal efforts to conduct a proper cleanup.
The EPA crews arrived at the side in mid-February to begin their cleanup of the estimated 750,000 square feet of office spaces, storage, warehouses and processing plants. Current estimates expect the cleanup to take about six months and to cost about $1.8 million. Workers wearing head-to-toe hazmat suits will use heavy machinery to gather together and move the debris to a landfill by Taylorville, and air-quality monitors are set up around the perimeter of the plant to make sure that all hazardous materials, including asbestos dust, remains contained in the site. They have a tanker truck nearby that regularly sprays the piles of debris with water to keep any dust down and away from the 11,000 or so people who live within a mile of the abandoned plant.
“This is the largest cleanup I've ever been involved in,” said EPA on-site coordinator Kevin Turner.
Turner said that the crews expect to work on the outside issues for a few weeks before moving on to tackle the interior. The potential hazards go beyond just asbestos – EPA officials believe they could find a number of other materials that need to be carefully removed.
“We'll hit every single floor,” Turner said. “And it's not just the asbestos. In the old office building, there might be mercury switches. The old florescent light fixtures, the ballast in those were filled with PCBs.”
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