Matthiessen And Hegeler Site
Fact Sheet #1
Matthiessen and Hegeler is an inactive zinc rolling mill and smelter that operated from 1858 to 1978.
The 160 acre property is located on the west side of the Little Vermilion River in LaSalle, Illinois. In
December 1993, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) collected soil and sediment
samples from the site and from surrounding properties. These samples included three sediment
samples from the Little Vermilion River, seven soil samples from the site property, 13 off-site soil
samples, and two background samples 1 1/2 miles north of the site. The sample results will be used to
make a preliminary evaluation of possible environmental impacts from past Matthiessen and Hegeler
What are the sample results? All sample results were compared to the results of two background
samples taken 1 1/2 mile north of the site in an area not affected by past operations of Matthiessen and
Hegeler. Metals are usually the primary contaminants at old zinc smelters so all the samples were
analyzed for inorganics including metals.
Zinc was elevated significantly in all samples when compared to the background samples. Cadmium and
lead were significantly elevated in all but one sample when compared to the background sample. Other
metals that significantly exceeded background in a high percentage of samples included arsenic,
copper, and mercury. Nickel was also found in significant concentrations on-site.
The on-site samples also were analyzed for organic compounds (chemicals that contain carbon) to
determine if chemicals other than metals may be of concern. The on-site soil samples showed low levels
of a variety of organic compounds including pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), solvents, and
chemicals found in oil and coal. The majority of these residues were found in areas of the former coal
gas plant, the pottery works, the slag pile, the acid tank, and an area where rusted drums were located.
Pentachlorophenol (a wood preservative) was the organic compound present in the highest
concentration (36 parts per million). This sample was taken from the site of the old coal gas plant.
Organic analysis of the sediment samples also showed low levels of pesticides and PCBs which could
have originated from agricultural or other industrial sources.
Is there a health risk associated with exposure to the chemicals or metals which are found at
elevated levels? Metals are the contaminant of primary concern. According to the Illinois Department
of Public Health (IDPH), however, the levels of metals both on-site and off-site do not pose a concern
from short-term exposure. Since there are no standards for metals in soil it is difficult to assess whether
the metals pose a possible health risk to people exposed over many years.
Many of the metals found are naturally occurring in soil at lower concentrations. The metals found off-site
that are of most concern are cadmium and lead. In addition, arsenic, mercury and nickel are found
on-site in concentrations that may be a concern to people exposed for many years. Although zinc is the
most commonly found metal in all the samples, it does not pose a similar health concern. The human
body requires small amounts of zinc for health. Large amounts of zinc in the soil, however, can damage
The IDPH plans to collect additional samples to help evaluate possible long-term health risks. Until more
Fact Sheet #1 - Matthiessen And Hegeler Zinc Page 1 of 3
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