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Gas smell keeps Hardin, Ill., post office closed

Gas smell keeps Hardin, Ill., post office closed

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HARDIN • Like many small towns, Hardin has no postal delivery.

People in the Calhoun County town on the Illinois River, about 35 miles northwest of St. Louis, must visit the post office to retrieve their mail from rows of lockboxes. It's not a big hardship in a place with a population of only about 1,000.

At least, it wasn't a big hardship before people began smelling some kind of gas in the post office.

Now it's been closed almost a month, the U.S. Postal Service says it's not safe, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency argues it is safe and the folks in Hardin must make about an 18-mile round trip to Kampsville, Ill., to pick up their mail.

"I'm getting awfully aggravated with the Postal Service," Mayor Phil Gress said Thursday. "We can't find anything that's leaking, any problem. The (Postal Service's) employee safety inspector will not let them go into the building."

The Postal Service says the Jan. 4 closing of the building at 103 East Main Street in the Calhoun County seat followed several days of complaints from workers and customers of a strong petrochemical odor. Safety inspectors detected a combustible gas, said Valerie Hughes, spokeswoman for the Postal Service's Gateway District in St. Louis. An inspector checked as recently as Jan. 21 and the gas was still there, she said.

Maggie Carson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said the state agency's inspectors don't believe there is reason for concern.

"From our perspective, there's no reason it has to be closed," Carson said.

But since the IEPA did not order the evacuation, it has no authority to rescind it, she said. She noted that the agency would gladly share its data with the federal government.

Carson said vapors from a nearby service station may have entered the post office and other buildings through improperly vented sewers.

Hughes said the Postal Service has been told that state or local inspectors have said the building is safe but doesn't have it in writing and doesn't necessarily agree.

Gress, the mayor, complained that the problem is dragging on and that at least one resident has been injured in a traffic crash while driving to get her mail. He wants a temporary post office set up if the old one stays out of use.

Hughes said that would involve substantial cost but may have to be considered if tests indicate an ongoing hazard.

Rural mail deliveries to the area around Hardin have not been interrupted.

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