SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – Deconstruction of an old factory in Springfield is continuing after a test found only small amounts of toxic materials.   

A recent environmental test conducted by Fehr Graham at the old Pillsbury Mills site found very negligible amounts of asbestos in the buildings and no industrial contaminants in the soil, but low levels of arsenic.

Some of the buildings however have peeling lead which will need to be removed.

“That was really good news,” Polly Poskin, the vice president of Moving Pillsbury Forward, said.

“In terms of the contaminants, it’s a safe site, and where they’re going to have to be removed, it’s going to be highly manageable.” 

Moving Pillsbury Forward acquired the site in March. The previous owners of the site faced legal challenges from the Attorney General’s Office.

In 2015, the office filed a lawsuit against the previous owners, accusing them of violating the Illinois Environmental Protection Act along with federal guidelines for preventing asbestos pollution. 

The lawsuit has since been resolved and shouldn’t impact the new owners’ plans to redevelop the site.

“In previous years, the US EPA came in in 2017, and did approximately a $3 million emergency cleanup,” Chris Richmond, the president of Moving Pillsbury Forward, said. “What we know today is that they did a great job with that $3 million in that emergency cleanup in 2017, leading us to today where we have just very little asbestos left to deal with, and we’re thankful for that.”

The Pillsbury Mills was a staple in Springfield for decades, Poskin explained, and it employed many in the community.

“This was an economic juggernaut for the city of Springfield for years,” Poskin said. “You don’t go anywhere in Springfield, and talk to people whose grandpa or grandma or uncle or cousin or next door neighbor worked at Pillsbury.”

Now, the group is focusing on demolishing the factory, which is 18 acres in size, and replacing it with something new.

“If we could attract a light industry into here, employ 70 to 100 people, that would be a great boon to this northeast side of Springfield, and to our community,” Poskin said.

Richmond, whose father worked at Pillsbury for more than 20 years, said it could take about three years to fully demolish the site. In that process, he said they will prioritize taking down the most unsafe buildings first. Six of the buildings on the site are already partially demolished.

“Two of those structures are missing their roofs and they’ve got lots of heavy rotting timbers in them and freestanding brick walls,” Richmond said. “So those will be among the first buildings that need to come down here in our sequence followed by the other four buildings that are under partial demolition already.”

The group is prepared for any environmental or public health impacts the demolition could have in the community, which Richmond said some in the neighborhood have raised concerns about.

“When we do demolition activities we’ll anticipate that we’ll be doing a water spray to keep all the dust from the demolition activities down and on the site without getting out into the neighborhood,” Richmond said. “We’ll also anticipate doing environmental monitoring around the perimeter of the site so that we’ll have real data to tell us if there are any contaminants that are moving away from the demolition zone.”