Rare Earths Facility’s Unforeseen Effects

By Monica Rios, SFSU, 2017

The Rare Earths Facility located in Chicago, Illinois resides in the area that is now DuPage County[1] For around forty years the facility produced various metals and chemicals like radium, ores, thorium, uranium, hydrofluoric acid, and for a period of time even gaslight mantels [2]I will show you the energy injustices at this site that arose because of high demand of various metals and chemicals, morphing DuPage County into a sacrifice zone[3].

Rare_Earths_Facility,_West_Chicago_-_01
The Rare Earths Facility in Chicago, Illinois.

The Rare Earths Facility’s Time in Production

The Rare Earths Facility in Illinois reigned for roughly forty years, meanwhile polluting the majority of the soil in what is now DuPage County, damaging  the lives of many[4]During those four decades the site produced various metals and chemicals, such as:

  • Radium
  • Ores, like monazite
  • Thorium
  • Uranium
  • Gaslight mantles
  • Hydrofluoric acid, for use during WW II[5]

    Kerr-McGee_Uranium_mill,_Grants_NM
    Kerr-Mcgee Uranium Mill

The Rare Earths Facility had many long-lasting effects on not only the land the site resided on, but on the communities surrounding it long after its closing during the 1970’s.

Changes in Ownership

In those forty years the ownership of the site continuously changed. Being sold and bought by companies, such as the

  • American Potash
  • The Chemical Company
  • Kerr-McGee
  • Later becoming a spin-off company called Tronox [6]

The constant change of ownership,  renaming and revitalizing the facility was all for the want of its economic revenue and job production. The major benefits that arose from the Rare Earths Facility was the overall income it was making.

KE010B
The Kerr-McGee corporations’ service station.

Negative Effects From Production

Regardless of the main factor of  job production, the United States benefited much from the production at the facility. The production of hydrofluoric acid was at a high demand during World War II and particularly during the Manhattan Project[7]The making and testing of bombs seemed vital at the time due to the country being at war as well as the production of gaslight mantles for communities, which supplied people with proper lighting for their streets and neighborhoods, creating public illumination [8]. The creation of  the hydrofluoric acid for the country was seen as patriotic or even a historic event and the expansion and demand of public lighting being incredibly popular called for a higher demand in production [9]. Turning DuPage County into a sacrifice zone, pushing aside the health risks for many and focussing on the money revenue, high demand, and job opportunities.

Sulfuric_acid_plant_at_the_Kerr_McGee_Uranium_mill
Sulfuric acid plant art the Kerr-Mcgee uranium mill.

Much of the land surrounding the Rare Earths site had large amounts of pollution and high levels of toxic chemicals such as thorium, radium, and uranium [10]According to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, over 675 residential properties had to be cleaned, some even being temporarily lifted to remove contaminated soil. Besides the housing issue there were major health issues as well with those who were exposed at the site and even those who were not. A study by the Illinois Department of Public Health in 1991 found a greater than expected incidence of some cancers among West Chicago residents[11]. “From 1985 to 1988, the study found three times as many cases of melanoma, a type of skin cancer, among men than expected in a similar population. The incidence among women for lung cancer and among men for colorectal cancer were almost double the rates expected [12].” Rare Earths creation of the hydrofluoric acid, which was used for creating atomic bombs during WWII, affected New Mexico at its test sites and those overseas in Japan [13].

011051910  REBUIDING ON BOLIVAR PENNINSULA
House being elevated inCrystal Beach, TX.


Even the disposal of the nuclear waste from the site was not handled properly. For example, having an open container exposed during travel to the site resulting in polluting the ground [14]. More recently, The Kress Creek in DuPage county contained roughly around 130,000 thousand yards of contaminated soil [15]. Sewage treatment plants became involved in an effort to help remove contamination after more discoveries of pollution resulted from their sewage tests [16]. Even residents from the MidWest were affected by the disposal and leakage of the Rare Earths Facilitie’s radioactive mining and uranium mining in the Navajo Nation and rocket fuel spills in Lake Mead, near Las Vegas [17].

Pollution was sunken in so deep that excavation of land for groundwater contamination has been proposed. “A groundwater corrective action plan (CAP) was submitted by Tronox, and accepted by IEMA. Implementation of corrective actions could take five to 50 years to achieve the groundwater protection standards established to meet unrestricted release of the site.” [18]. Three generations of a family can be exposed to this pollution in the meantime of it being cleaned up, all due to the Kerr-McGee company’s Rare Earths Facility.

 

REFERENCES

[1] Weston Solutions, Inc. (State of Illinois). (2015, June 26). Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/decommissioning/complex/tronox.html

[2] Lindsay Light and Chemical Co.  (2013, October 29). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from http://projects.wsj.com/waste-lands/site/247-lindsay-light-and-chemical-co/

[3] Robeznieks, Andis. “Assault on Mount Thorium.” Chicago Reader, Chicago Reader, 3 Nov. 2017, from http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/assault-on-mount-thorium/Content?oid=877745.

[4] Robeznieks, Andis. “Assault on Mount Thorium.” Chicago Reader, Chicago Reader, 3 Nov. 2017, from http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/assault-on-mount-thorium/Content?oid=877745.

[5] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (February 1990). “NPL Site Narrative for Kerr-McGee (Residential Areas)”. Retrieved 3 Nov. 2017, from https://epa.gov/superfund

[6] Lindsay Light and Chemical Co.  (2013, October 29). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from http://projects.wsj.com/waste-lands/site/247-lindsay-light-and-chemical-co/

[7] E. Meyer. (2014, April 04). 40 years later, toxic waste still haunts pockets of DuPage County. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-superfund-cleanup-20120118-story.html

[8] Hawthorne, Michael. “Gaslight Era Left Radioactive Legacy in Chicago.”, Chicago Tribune, 17 Apr. 2014, from articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-04-17/news/ct-thorium-radioactive-cleanup–20140417_1_chicago-river-west-chicago-radioactive-waste.

[9] Hawthorne, Michael. “Gaslight Era Left Radioactive Legacy in Chicago.”, Chicago Tribune, 17 Apr. 2014, from articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-04-17/news/ct-thorium-radioactive-cleanup–20140417_1_chicago-river-west-chicago-radioactive-waste.

[10] Lindsay Light and Chemical Co.  (2013, October 29). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from http://projects.wsj.com/waste-lands/site/247-lindsay-light-and-chemical-co/

[11] Starks, Tamara. “Death in the Sandbox : West Chicago, Ill., Neighborhood Quakes Over Radioactive Soil.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 21 Mar. 1993, from articles.latimes.com/1993-03-21/news/mn-13479_1_west-chicago.4]

[12] Starks, Tamara. “Death in the Sandbox : West Chicago, Ill., Neighborhood Quakes Over Radioactive Soil.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 21 Mar. 1993, from articles.latimes.com/1993-03-21/news/mn-13479_1_west-chicago.4]

[13] E. Meyer. (2014, April 04). 40 years later, toxic waste still haunts pockets of DuPage County. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-superfund-cleanup-20120118-story.html

[14] Weston Solutions, Inc. (State of Illinois). (2015, June 26). Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/decommissioning/complex/tronox.html

[15] Weston Solutions, Inc. (State of Illinois). (2015, June 26). Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/decommissioning/complex/tronox.html

[16] Weston Solutions, Inc. (State of Illinois). (2015, June 26). Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/decommissioning/complex/tronox.html

[17] Hawthorne, Michael. “Gaslight Era Left Radioactive Legacy in Chicago.”, Chicago Tribune, 17 Apr. 2014, from articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-04-17/news/ct-thorium-radioactive-cleanup–20140417_1_chicago-river-west-chicago-radioactive-waste.

[18] Weston Solutions, Inc. (State of Illinois). (2015, June 26). Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/decommissioning/complex/tronox.html

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