Madigan Moves To Close Landfills Over Drinking Water Concerns

After BGA stories raised questions about 'clean-fill' quarries-turned-dumps taking in debris that could pollute groundwater, state attorney general argues two quarries need to be shut down.

Follow-Up
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. (Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times)

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan moved Monday to shut down a pair of so-called “clean-fill” quarries accused of taking in harmful materials that threaten to pollute local drinking water sources in LaSalle County.

Madigan is asking a LaSalle County Circuit Court judge to order the dumps about 60 miles southwest of Chicago to halt operations after numerous alleged violations, including newly documented cases of banned materials dumped in the sites this year. The motions follow a pair of lawsuits in May in which the attorney general’s office accused the owners of almost three dozen violations.

“Defendants have consistently failed to comply” with the law that regulates the quarries-turned-construction debris landfills, the attorney general’s office said in one filing.

The newly filed motions come just days after a Better Government Association investigation highlighted concerns among Sheridan residents about potential drinking water contamination.

Some communities, politicians and environmental groups have pressed state lawmakers to require groundwater testing around the more than 90 Illinois quarries accepting construction debris that’s supposed to be restricted to rock, concrete, bricks and soil. If disposed of properly, those materials should not pose a contamination threat to groundwater.

“I’m grateful that it’s moving forward but I’m still disappointed in the system that it’s taken so long,” said Wendy Greenrod, a Sheridan resident who has complained for seven years to local and state officials about the Sheridan dump sites.

Neither the operator of the site, Branko Vardijan, nor his attorney responded to requests for comment.

Attorneys for Madigan’s office allege that even after filing initial lawsuits in May against quarry owners Sheridan-Joliet Land Development LLC and Sheridan Sand & Gravel Co. that officials at the dump sites continued accepting prohibited materials. An Illinois Environmental Protection Agency inspector reported finding banned items — including wood, metal, plastic, glass, countertops and painted concrete — in early June of this year, according to the latest motion.

Branko Vardijan operates the two quarries in the LaSalle County village of Sheridan. In May, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office filed two lawsuits against the quarries, alleging illegal dumping in the quarries threatened to contaminate groundwater. (Brett Chase/BGA)

In January, the state EPA inspector reported “a distinct petroleum odor emanating” from two large soil piles at the Sheridan site, according to court filings. That same site is now operating with an expired permit, according to the court filing by Madigan.

“We will continue to work closely with our General Assembly on legislation to enact change, while working cooperatively with the Attorney General to ensure that these sites receive the proper oversight,” Illinois EPA Director Alec Messina said in a statement to the BGA.

Madigan is scheduled to go to court later this month to argue for a temporary restraining order that would close the Sheridan sites.

The concerns about water pollution aren’t confined to Sheridan. Madigan and others say groundwater around the construction dump sites need to be tested for potential contaminants. Illinois lawmakers took up the issue in their recently completed legislative session but failed to act.

Quarry owners, construction companies and trade unions have blocked bills in the Illinois legislature this past session that would have required groundwater testing.

Madigan’s lawsuits against the two Sheridan sites followed soil sample inspections by the state EPA last year that resulted in more than 70 clean dump sites across Illinois being cited for higher-than-allowed amounts of harmful chemicals and metals, including arsenic, lead, mercury and other contaminants, including the farm chemical Atrazine.

The quarries offer a low-cost alternative to regular landfills to take in construction and demolition debris.


Environmental reporting at the BGA is supported by Joel M. Friedman, President of The Alvin H. Baum Family Fund.

About the Author
  • Brett Chase

    Brett Chase investigates waste, fraud and corruption in a number of areas, including the environment, housing, health care and transportation. A former reporter and editor for Crain's Chicago Business, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Bloomberg News, Chase has covered government and business for more than 20 years.