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U.S. EPA REGION 5
DUPAGE COUNTY
WEST CHICAGO

Congressional District # 14

KERR-MCGEE (RESIDENTIAL AREAS)

EPA ID# ILD980824015
Last Updated: December, 2011

Site Description

The Kerr-McGee Residential Areas site is one of four National Priorities List (NPL) sites in the West Chicago area 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.

Over several decades before the health risks associated with radioactive materials were generally recognized, the mill tailings were available for use as free fill material by residents and contractors. Winds also may have spread some of the mill tailings stored on the REF to nearby properties. As a result of the windblown contamination and the use of the tailings as fill material, the soil at many properties in the West Chicago area became contaminated with radioactive materials.

Prior to the Residential Areas site's listing on the NPL, Kerr-McGee conducted cleanup actions in the mid-1980s at approximately 120 residential properties in the West Chicago area. Following the site's listing on the NPL, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established cleanup standards for site soils and began field investigations to identify contaminated properties.  EPA's study area for the site includes more than 2,170 properties (approximately 1000 acres) in and around West Chicago, Illinois.

Approximately 15,000 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 is being addressed through federal and potentially responsible party (PRP) actions. 

In January 2009, Tronox (formerly Kerr-McGee) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and ceased work on the site.  In May 2010, an interim agreement was reached with Tronox that provided funding for work through 2010.  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 Residential Areas Site along with other remaining Tronox liabilities in West Chicago.

Threats and Contaminants

Soil is contaminated with radioactive wastes. People who are exposed to elevated levels of radiation in the soils may suffer adverse health effects.  As of September 2006, all of the 676 properties at the site that EPA identified as contaminated have been cleaned up comprising of approximately 55 acres of contaminated soil.  However, EPA currently is reevaluating the approximately 120 properties that were part of the mid-1980s cleanup project to determine whether there is any residual contamination that was left behind during that earlier cleanup and which may have been then covered with clean backfill soil preventing its detection via a typical gamma walkover radiation survey.  As part of that reevaluation, EPA is conducting additional field investigations at some of the properties that were part of the 1980s cleanup program. If any such residual contamination was left behind during the 1980s cleanup, the contamination levels would likely only be slightly above EPA's cleanup standards and not causing any current exposure because the materials would be buried under clean backfill soil.

Cleanup Progress

Prior to the Residential Areas site's listing on the NPL, Kerr-McGee conducted cleanup actions in the mid-1980s at approximately 120 residential properties in the West Chicago area. Following the site's listing on the NPL, U.S. EPA established cleanup standards for site soils and began field investigations to identify contaminated properties. U.S. EPA's study area for the site includes more than 2,170 properties in and around West Chicago, Illinois. EPA began testing properties in September 1993 to determine which ones are contaminated with radioactive thorium. To date, EPA has tested all but three properties in the site study area (the property owners for those three properties have not yet granted access) and has identified 676 contaminated properties.

In November 1994, EPA decided to conduct a non-time-critical removal action at the site.  EPA documented its decision in an action memorandum which selected excavation of contaminated soil and offsite disposal as the selected removal action.  EPA simultaneously issued a unilateral administrative order to Kerr-McGee to conduct the removal action. Kerr-McGee began the cleanup of contaminated properties in May 1995.  The cleanup consists of digging up the contaminated soil at each property; hauling the contaminated soil away for disposal at a licensed, permanent disposal facility; backfilling the excavated areas with clean soil; and restoring and landscaping the property as needed. As of September 2006, Kerr-McGee (now known as Tronox) had completed the cleanup of all 676 known contaminated properties and had removed 110,883 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the site.

On September 29, 2003, EPA issued a record of decision (ROD) for the site which documented that the ongoing removal action is eliminating existing and potential risks to human health and the environment at the site. As a result, the selected remedy in the ROD is no further action after the ongoing removal action is completed. The removal action will continue until all testing is complete and all identified contaminated properties are cleaned up. 

As part of the ongoing removal action, EPA is reevaluating the approximately 120 properties that were part of the mid-1980s cleanup project to determine whether there is any residual contamination that was left behind during that earlier cleanup and then covered with clean backfill soil. Any such low-level residual contamination, if buried under clean soils, may have gone undetected during EPA's investigation activities.  As part of the reevaluation, EPA is carefully analyzing all available data and excavation information for each property that was part of the 1980s cleanup project. EPA is also conducting additional field investigations at certain properties that were part of the 1980s cleanup project. If any soils exceeding EPA's cleanup standards are discovered, the affected properties would be cleaned up as part of the ongoing removal action.

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 any remaining properties in need of additional cleanup. In May 2010, an interim agreement was reached with Tronox that provided funding to complete the cleanup of 10 properties identified with residual contamination. This work was completed by the end of 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 Residential Areas 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 cleanup work to date has been conducted by Tronox and its contractors under the oversight of EPA, the State of Illinois, and the local communities. Cleanup work required after February 14, 2011, will continue in this manner under the West Chicago Environmental Response Trust.

To date, EPA has determined that 39 properties required additional sampling to assure that contamination does not remain above the cleanup criteria of which sampling activities have been completed at 33 properties.  A total of 13 properties were identified with minor amounts of contamination remaining slightily above the cleanup standards.  As of July 2011, all 13 properties have been cleaned up and restored.  EPA continues to evaluate the site files to determine if additional properties require sampling.  Additionally U.S. EPA continues to pursue access to three properties within the orginal study area that have refused access and have never been tested.  Once EPA obtains access, these properties will be sampled to determine if contmination is present above the cleanup standard and if so, the properties will be cleaned up by 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), a very active and vocal community group, 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.  Throughout the bankruptcy process, the local communities were involved in the negotiations and were a party to the bankruptcy agreement.  

Property Reuse

The Residential Areas Site is already being used for residential and other purposes, so property "reuse" issues do not apply. Future use of the properties at the site is expected to remain the same as current use.

Contacts

Remedial Project Manager, U.S. EPA
david seely (seely.david@epa.gov)
(312) 886-7058

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

Aliases

KERR-MCGEE RESIDENTIAL AREAS

 

Site Profile Information

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

 


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