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About Us:  History of Crab Orchard

The area that is now Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (CONWR) underwent many changes over the past one-hundred years.  During World War II, approximately 22,000 formerly farmed acres in this area was occupied by the Illinois Ordnance Plant (IOP), and managed by the War Department.  Over 500 buildings were erected for the production of boosters, primers, and fuses and TNT melt-pour operations for artillery shells, bombs, and mines in support of the war effort. 

Area 7 buildings
IOP Area 7 Buildings, 1943

On September 2, 1945 (VJ Day), the war ended and IOP operations ceased.  The old IOP area, along with an additional 21,500 acres, was transferred to the Department of the Interior (DOI) by an Act of Congress in 1947, and CONWR was born.

Over the years, some 200 tenants have leased former IOP operating and storage facilities from DOI that are managed by FWS.  Tenants have included small private and large public business.  Buildings have been used to manufacture and store everything from residential home building materials and boats to explosives, pesticides, electrical components, inks, painted products, and printing materials. Several large corporations continue to lease facilities on the refuge.

Contaminants and Cleanup

Poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and cadmium, both hazardous materials, were discovered on the refuge by the State of Illinois in the 1970s.

Environmental sampling
Environmental sampling is the key to discovering and cleaning up contaminants

In the following years, further investigation by DOI resulted in findings of other contaminants on the refuge including metals, pesticides, and TNT. Many of these contaminants are materials associated with industrial activities.  Under CERCLA, studies were begun to determine the extent of contamination, potential risks to humans, wildlife, and the environment, and feasibility and efficiency of a variety of cleanup methods.  Several contaminated areas of the refuge have already been remediated while other projects are ongoing.

A number of techniques are being used to cleanup contaminants at Superfund sites, and some have been used at CONWR.  Contaminated soils are often removed, leaving clean soil; underneath in place. Excavations are then filled with clean soil brought in from another area, and the site is revegetated with native plants that benefit wildlife. Excavated soil can be incinerated to remove contaminants, with the remaining soil being sealed in an engineered landfill on the refuge or transported to a similar landfill off site. Contaminated water is often pumped out and cleaned of contaminants, and is sometimes returned to the immediate area once cleaned.

New cleanup technologies are constantly being developed. One such technology being considered for use at CONWR is phytoremediation: certain plant species have the ability to remove contaminants from soil, sediment, and water, and break them down naturally. Planting these species in contaminated areas will not only lead to cleanup, but also provides habitat for wildlife.

The Future

From providing crops, WWII supplies, economic stability, and recreational opportunities, the area occupied by CONWR has been vital to the livelihood of those in southern Illinois and the country as a whole. However, extensive activities are required to clean up hazardous materials left by activities in the area. Cleanup of contaminants will be a long process, requiring cooperation between many agencies and corporations. However, protection of fish, wildlife, and people utilizing the refuge is an obtainable goal, and one that CERCLA personnel are dedicated to achieving.

photo collage



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Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge

8588 Rt. 148
Marion, IL 62959

Phone:  (618) 997-5491  

Email:  CrabOrchardCleanup@fws.gov


Last Updated:  August 6, 2007