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U.S. EPA REGION 5
DUPAGE COUNTY
DUPAGE COUNTY

Congressional District # 14

KERR-MCGEE (KRESS CREEK/WEST BRANCH OF DUPAGE RIVER)

EPA ID# ILD980823991
Last Updated: February, 2012

Site Description

The Kerr-McGee Kress Creek/West Branch of DuPage River site is one of four National Priorities List (NPL) sites in the West Chicago area that were contaminated with radioactive thorium wastes.  The radioactive waste originated from a nearby facility known as the Rare Earths Facility (REF). The REF, operated by Lindsay Light and Chemical Company and its successors from 1932 until 1973, produced non-radioactive elements known as rare earths and radioactive elements such as thorium, radium, and uranium along with gas lantern mantles for private entities and the United States government's use in federal atomic energy programs.  The REF produced these elements by extracting them from monazite sands, bastnasite (rare earth ore), and other ores, using an acid leaching process.  Production of these elements resulted in the generation of radioactive mill tailings that contained residual levels of thorium, radium, and uranium as well as certain other insoluble metals.  Kerr-McGee purchased the REF in 1967 and maintained operations until closing the facility in 1973.

At the Kress Creek/West Branch of DuPage River (KC/WBDR) site, creek and river sediments and banks and floodplain areas are contaminated with radioactive thorium wastes.  The site became contaminated when radioactively-contaminated surface runoff and discharges from the REF were carried by a storm sewer into nearby Kress Creek and, from there, downstream to the West Branch DuPage River.  The site includes approximately 1.5 miles of Kress Creek from the storm sewer outfall to the creek's confluence with the West Branch DuPage River and approximately 5.2 miles of the river from the confluence downstream to the McDowell Dam in Naperville, IL, for a total of 6.7 miles of creek and river.

Approximately 20,000 people live within three miles of the site.  Drinking water in the area is obtained from municipal or private wells and is not impacted by site contaminants.

Site Responsibility


This site was being addressed through potentially responsible party (PRP) actions until January 2009, when Tronox (formerly Kerr-McGee) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  EPA successfully negotiated a settlement of environmental claims that established the West Chicago Environmental Response Trust, with Weston serving as Trustee, to complete the cleanup work in Reach 8 of the KC/WBDR site.  The cleanup will be funded through legally required DOE reimbursements of site cleanup expenditures.  If the West Chicago Trust is unable to complete the work with DOE funding, EPA may be forced to complete the West Branch DuPage River cleanup as a Fund-lead Remedial Action with Superfund money. 

Threats and Contaminants

Sediments and soils at the site contain low-level radioactive contamination.  People who are exposed to radioactively-contaminated soils or sediments may suffer adverse health effects.

Cleanup Progress

U.S. EPA began a remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) in 1993 to determine the nature and extent of contamination at the site and to evaluate various cleanup alternatives.  Around 1997, Kerr-McGee and parties representing the affected communities asked U.S. EPA for time to negotiate an agreement regarding cleanup of the site.  As part of the negotiations between Kerr-McGee and the affected communities, Kerr-McGee conducted extensive, additional characterization work at the site.  U.S. EPA gave the parties time to negotiate, and the parties eventually reached a conceptual agreement for cleanup of the site.  The proposed cleanup approach was contingent upon Kerr-McGee, U.S. EPA, and other governmental agencies resolving certain technical and legal issues regarding the cleanup.

In October 2003, the federal government and Kerr-McGee reached a non-binding agreement in principle which resolved the main outstanding technical and legal issues regarding the proposed cleanup approach.  The agreement in principle also described the steps that would have to occur for Kerr-McGee and the government to reach a formal, binding agreement, known as a consent decree, for site cleanup.

Following the agreement in principle, Kerr-McGee and U.S. EPA signed an Administrative Order on Consent, effective November 21, 2003, for Kerr-McGee to complete the RI/FS at the site.  The order specified that Kerr-McGee would incorporate U.S. EPA's prior data as well as Kerr-McGee's extensive site characterization data into the RI and FS documents. Kerr-McGee prepared the RI and FS reports, and U.S. EPA prepared the human health and ecological risk assessment reports.  Those documents were finalized in May 2004.

On May 24, 2004, U.S. EPA issued for public comment a proposed plan for site cleanup. U.S. EPA held a public meeting on June 2, 2004, regarding the proposed cleanup plan. The federal government and Kerr-McGee resolved all major negotiation issues related to the federal consent decree by the end of September 2004, but the document was not finalized until spring 2005.  Because Kerr-McGee was entering into two separate consent decrees (one with the federal government and one with the local communities), both decrees had to be finalized around the same time.  As a result, U.S. EPA signed the Record of Decision (ROD) on March 24, 2005, and the federal consent decree was finalized on March 30, 2005.

The ROD selected excavation and off-site disposal as the cleanup method for targeted sediments and soils at the site.  Under the federal consent decree, Kerr-McGee agreed to design and carry out the cleanup at the site, with the cleanup estimated to cost $71.9 million.  The design and cleanup is being conducted under a phased approach, proceeding sequentially from upstream to downstream, with the site divided into several different sections or "reaches" as described below:

        Reach 1:  creek from storm sewer outfall to May Street

        Reach 2:  creek from May Street to Joy Road

        Reach 3:  creek from Joy Road to Route 59

        Reach 4:  creek from Route 59 to the confluence with the River

        Reach 5C:  river from confluence to Mack Road

        Reach 5D:  river from Mack Road to River Oaks subdivision

        Reach 5E:  river from River Oaks subdivision to Williams Road

        Reach 6:  river from Williams Road to Butterfield Road

        Reach 7:  river from Butterfield Road to Warrenville Dam

        Reach 8:  river from Warrenville Dam to McDowell Dam

Cleanup work at the site began in the summer of 2005.  During 2005, Kerr-McGee completed cleanup work in Reaches 1 and 2 of the creek, including cleanup in the residential neighborhood located closest to the source of the contamination and having the highest concentration of contamination at the site.  During 2006, cleanup work was completed in Reaches 3 and 4 of the creek, as well as in the river portion of the Kerr-McGee Sewage Treatment Plant Site (a related NPL site).  In 2007, cleanup work was completed in Reaches 5C, 5D, and most of 5E.  In the summer of 2008, work was completed in Reach 5E and all of Reach 6. 

Work was scheduled to resume in late April 2009 on Reach 7 of the river cleanup.  In January 2009, Tronox (formerly Kerr-McGee) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and ceased work on the site.  EPA immediately began attempting to negotiate a settlement of environmental claims with Tronox that would fund the cleanup of Reaches 7 and 8 of the KC/WBDR site.  In May 2010, an interim agreement was reached with Tronox that provided funding to complete the Reach 7 cleanup in the summer of 2010.  That work was completed in November 2010.

Subsequently, on February 14, 2011, a bankruptcy settlement agreement was reached with Tronox that provided for the creation of the West Chicago Environmental Response Trust, with Weston serving as Trustee.  The West Chicago Trust will be responsible for completing the cleanup of the KC/WBDR site along with other remaining Tronox liabilities in West Chicago.  The Trust will be funded through legally required DOE reimbursements at the rate of 55.2% of site cleanup costs going forward.  The timing of cleanup will be dependant on Congressional appropriation of these DOE funds for reimbursement. 

The cleanup of Reach 8A was initiated in July 2011 and was completed in early November 2011.  A total of 8,000 cubic yards of contaminated material was removed from Reach 8A.

There are three areas requiring cleanup to complete the Kress Creek site.  These three areas are the Bower Elementary School area in Reach 8A, Reach 8B and the Route 59 overpass over Kress Creek.  Current plans call for remediating the area around the school and Reach 8B in the summer of 2012, with Route 59 following in 2013.  EPA is attempting to accelerate the cleanup to complete all work in 2012, and a decision on funding should come soon.  Site completion is currently scheduled for the summer of 2013.

The cleanup work to date has been conducted by Tronox and its contractors under the oversight of U.S. EPA, the State of Illinois, and the local communities.  Cleanup work will continue in this manner under the West Chicago Environmental Response Trust. 

Community Involvement

The local community has been very involved in site issues for more than a decade. The Thorium Action Group (TAG) is a very active and vocal community group that has fought hard for the removal of the thorium materials from the West Chicago and DuPage County area.  EPA participates in regular meetings of the West Chicago Intergovernmental Forum, which includes representatives of state and federal regulatory agencies, local community representatives, members of TAG, the PRP, and other interested stakeholders.

In addition, the local community entities (including West Chicago, Warrenville, DuPage County, the DuPage County Forest Preserve District and the West Chicago Park District) entered into a separate consent decree with Kerr-McGee regarding the cleanup of the site, and have retained a technical representative who is conducting daily oversight of the cleanup on behalf of the local communities.

The West Chicago Intergovernmental Forum meets every other month to provide updates to the local communities and regulatory authorities on the progress of the cleanup work. 

Many letters have been sent to the EPA Administrator in support of funding for this project, including letters from the US Senate, House of Representatives, Illinois House of Representatives, City of West Chicago, City of Warrenville, DuPage County, and the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.

Congressional Interest

Many letters have been sent to the EPA Administrator in support of funding for this project, including letters from the US Senate, House of Representatives, Illinois House of Representatives, City of West Chicago, City of Warrenville, DuPage County, and the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.

Property Reuse

Land use along the creek and river is primarily a mixture of residential and forest preserve properties.  Future land use is expected to remain the same.

Contacts

Remedial Project Manager, U.S. EPA
timothy fischer (fischer.timothy@epa.gov)
(312) 886-5787

Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA
janet pope
(312) 353-0628

Aliases

KERR-MCGEE (KRESS CREEK/W BRANCH DUPAGE)
KERR-MCGEE (KRESS CREEK/WEST BRAND OF DU
WEST BRANCH OF DUPAGE RIVER
KERR-MCGEE KRESS CREEK & WEST BRANCH

 

Site Profile Information

This profile provides you with information on EPA's cleanup progress at this Superfund site.

 


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