Cleanup crews are working to collect contamination caused by a broken elevator at Northern Public Radio’s studios in DeKalb. Anyone familiar with WNIJ and WNIU’s studios on First Street may have noticed an increasing number of containment barrels, tanks, and other equipment in the parking lot.
The decades-old elevator is leaking hydraulic fluid and is now completely inoperable. Clean-up has been difficult because of the elevator shaft’s proximity to the building’s sump pumps. Recent rains and snow-melt have kept the pumps busy at the station along the Kishwaukee River: the high water table at the site has played into the building’s long history of flooding issues. The building is owned and maintained by Northern Illinois University. NIU’s Vice President for Operations Bill Nicklas says hydraulic fluid was dripping into a pit below the elevator and mixing with water, which was then flushed from the building and into the Kishwaukee River via the sump pump. It is not known how much diluted fluid was released, but Nicklas says it was stopped quickly and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency was notified.
Crews from the university are working with environmental contractor Trans Environmental to collect and properly dispose of the fluids from the elevator pit. The large tanks and barrels will remain on-site for at least the next few days.
The elevator issue has also limited access to the station’s basement, where studios for WNIJ, WNIU, and NIRIS are located. NIRIS is a service for people in northern Illinois with print impairments: community volunteers read newspapers and other print materials to people who are eligible for special receivers. Accommodations have been made for volunteers who need an elevator to access the basement NIRIS studio: a temporary studio has been assembled on the first floor so they can record their usual programs.
The elevator is expected to be operable again in about two weeks.