Too many MetroLink repairs: Is it shoddy workmanship?

News-DemocratJuly 31, 2013 

Q. I'm curious about what seems to be an inordinate amount of track repair being done on MetroLink between Southwestern Illinois College and the Shiloh-Scott stations. Whenever there are notices about delays it almost always seems to involve this section. Since this is the newest part of the line, it seems odd that they need to keep working on it. Is this a case of shoddy workmanship or is it something else?

-- G. Schoening, of Millstadt

A. Don't worry -- you as a county taxpayer are not being taken for a ride, says Bi-State Development Agency spokesman Patty Beck.

I'm sure you're referring to the weekly stories you've been seeing in the News-Democrat about delays on that part of the Illinois line in the evening and on weekends. But while it may sound like something new is cropping up all the time on that 10-year-old section, it's all apparently part of one lengthy project.

It turns out that the concrete rail ties were found to not meet certain specifications, so they all are being replaced. But, like a new TV you buy, they were under warranty, so taxpayers won't be out a cent, Beck said.

"The insurance company notified us, and we are replacing them," Beck said. "They don't have to be replaced right now, but we are doing it to stay ahead of the game."

The work is scheduled to continue through September, at which time crews will be moving to Missouri to start replacing some of the wooden ties there as part of regular maintenance. Work is being done at night and on weekends to lessen the impact on riders.

Q. Due to the rising cost, Belleville libraries no longer accept batteries for recycling. Do you know of another place to do so?

-- L.K.M., of Swansea

A. I know it goes against everything you've learned, but if you're talking about your standard alkaline batteries sold by the millions, just throw them in the trash.

Yes, if you're like me, I can see you shudder as you read that advice, but according to most experts, it's where they may end up anyway even if you do try to recycle them.

Here's why: Major battery manufacturers such as Duracell and Energizer have removed the mercury from alkaline batteries, rendering them safe for disposal in your regular trash. The other primary materials -- steel, zinc and manganese -- don't pose health or environmental dangers, according to Duracell.

But can't the other metals be recovered and reused? Not very easily, say Bill Diesslin and Merry Rankin with the environmental health and safety department at Iowa State University. They say that, pound for pound, alkaline batteries are 10 to 12 times more expensive to recycle than most toxic wastes that the department normally handles. As a result, you may be creating more pollution in the recycling process than you'd reduce.

"I'm thrilled people are noticing what's going into the trash and want to change that," said Rankin, who suggests that even those who say they'll recycle such batteries wind up throwing them out. "At this time, the cost-benefit analysis doesn't support it."

Of course, if this might give you a bad case of insomnia at night, you can salve your conscience by dropping off most standard-sized alkalines at Creve Coeur Camera in O'Fallon.

Now if you're talking about rechargeable batteries, that's a different story. Chemicals found in these (lithium, Ni-Cads, etc.) can leak and harm the environment.

But here's what appears to be an easy solution: A number of battery and portable electronic product companies have banded together to start the Call2Recyle Program. They say they have already recycled more than 3.5 million pounds of such batteries this year at hundreds of locations across the country.

They said they accept just about any kind of rechargeable battery weighing up to 11 pounds along with your old cell phones. There appears to be 18 centers in the Belleville area alone, including Radio Shack, Ace Hardware and Home Depot stores. For the site nearest you, go to www.call2recycle.org -- or call them at (877) 273-2925 -- and enter your ZIP code.

Today's trivia

Where would you go to see what many believe is the largest collection of tiled mosaics in the world?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: In England, the king or queen must formally approve every act of Parliament. It's called the "Royal Assent," but, unlike the U.S., there's little worry among MPs that their work will suffer ye royale veto. The last time an act was not approved was on March 11, 1708, when Queen Anne withheld her assent from a bill that would have placed a militia in Scotland. Her ministers advised her that such a militia might be disloyal and so she withheld her signature.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

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