CategoryEnvironment

A century old former radium extraction site in Bronzeville gets building permit

Map of the Carnotite Reduction Company site near Bronzeville

The Carnotite Reduction Company site near Bronzeville. Map: OpenStreetMap

A recently-issued building permit on 26th Street just east of King Drive in the Prairie Shores neighborhood of the Near South Side community area (near Bronzeville) caught my eye.

Installation of temporary wood poles and aerial cable, to powering air monitors, for the Carnotite Reduction Company site project

Carnotite wasn’t a word I’ve heard before, and “Carnotite Reduction Company” isn’t a business I’ve heard of before, either.

I searched Bing and found that 4 of the 5 results were about cleaning up a contaminated site, and one of the results was a letter in PDF form hosted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website prepared by a scientist at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The letter is 11 pages long and tells the story about Carnotite Reduction Company, which had a factory in 1915 on what’s now known as the Michael Reese Hospital site, the buildings of which have all been demolished.

The Carnotite Co. mainly produced radium, along with some uranium and vanadium as byproducts.

The Carnotite Co. owned and operated mines in Colorado and Utah. In 1919, it was one of four companies that mined 95% of the carnotite ore produced in Colorado. The U.S. dominated the world radium market until 1922, when Belgium began using pitchblende ore from the Belgian Congo. The pitchblende was 40 to 100 times more pure than carnotite, and by 1923, Belgian competition ended carnotite ore processing in the U.S.

This article from the “Chicago Chemical Bulletin” publication in 1917 linked on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website about the cleanup project describes carnotite ore and mining process. They’ve cataloged this site as EPA ID# ILN000510371.

Chicago Chemical Bulletin: 1917 article about the Carnotite Reduction Company

The letter describes where radioactive, contaminated soil was found during boring tests made within the last three years, and how it potentially got there. The factory was extracting radium there, for an exploding cancer research trend, until 1920.

The company, the EPA believes, may have disposed its waste into public infrastructure.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) suspects that the Carnotite Co. may have sent this liquid waste into the sewer, floor drains, or reintroduced it into the process for further refining. Because streets in the area, including Inglehart Court, were abandoned during the redevelopment in the 1950s and 1960s, sewers running along those abandoned streets likely also were abandoned. Other options for liquid waste disposal commonly used at the time included streams or ditches (with Lake Michigan in the vicinity), waste ponds, dug wells, and dumping wastes on porous ground (such as the sand on-site).

When the City of Chicago was preparing the site in 2009 for a potential Olympic Village for its 2016 Olympic Games bid – buying the property for an insane amount of cash and then razing it all, while eventually losing the bid to Rio de Janeiro – conducted “Phase I and Phase II environmental investigations” but didn’t survey for radiological contamination and didn’t uncover an important survey from 30 years prior.

The Illinois Department of Public Health found radioactive contamination after a “radiological surface survey” of the Michael Reese hospital site in 1979.

The IDPH Division of Radiological Health concluded that the contamination did not pose an immediate health threat, but should be taken into account before any future construction. In 1979, IDPH did not notify USEPA about the contamination they found.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency surveyed the site in August 2009 and found the contamination, alerted the EPA, and met with the City of Chicago to discuss remediation.

The letter details further testing by AECOM, a global transportation, infrastructure, and engineering company, the levels of contamination, and risk assessment. It appears that the contamination won’t be a danger to most people.

The Illinois Department of Public Health concludes that exposure at the Carnotite Co. site to the area with the greatest surface radium and uranium concentration for 20 minutes per day, five days per week, 250 days per week, for 50 years is not expected to harm people’s health. IDPH considers this to be a maximum likely exposure scenario, given current conditions at the site.

It notes that a change in land use – the site is currently occupied by vacant hardscape, tennis courts, a park, sidewalks, and grassy areas – “could increase exposure duration”, especially if housing was built here.

The City of Chicago applied for a license in 2013 to temporarily store radioactive material on site before shipping it to a disposal facility. The EPA last updated its website in April 2014 to say that it was considering this application.

GM hired a transit rider to promote their Volt, I think

A screenshot of the GM Chevy Volt ad I saw on Hulu. 

If you’re like me and most Americans, you probably see an advertisement for a car at least once a day. In an ad I watched on Hulu tonight, it appears GM filmed someone who takes buses and trains (or rides her bike) to sell people on the Chevy Volt.

The woman (the ad’s overlay text makes it seem like she’s a real owner) says, “I don’t event know what it’s like to stop and get gas” and “I am probably going to the gas station about once a month, probably less”.

With a car that only gets 35 MPG city, 40 MPG highway,* and has a range of 379 miles, she must be taking the bus for all those other trips she has to make each month! Or she walks to work each day and bikes to the grocery store on weekends. Or she just rarely leaves the house. But I don’t think the ad implies any of these things: instead it’s telling viewers that this automobile has amazing gas mileage (the ad never mentions it has an electric motor component).

The “average American” makes 3.79 trips per day with an average trip length of 9.75 miles. If this Volt driver was that average person, she would be driving 1,108.58 miles every 30 days. And her car doesn’t have that much range. It has a third of that.

She might have bad memory, though, about visiting gas stations.

The Toyota Prius, for comparison, gets 51 MPG city, 48 MPG highway,* and starts at $7,000 less.

* These are only estimates. The Chevy Volt gets 94 MPGe when running on purely the electric motors.

N.B. The Chevy Volt website shows a photo of the car in the position where it will spend most of the time: parked. I appreciate that accuracy!

This city now runs on bikes and bees

Bicycling in Chicago is as much about having cheap transportation* as a thing to build new and maintain existing social relationships. And sometimes everything can come together in such an awesome way that you build a freakin’ business on the back of a bicycle.

I also posted about this on Grid Chicago.

Such is the case with many of my friends, including Jana Kinsman and Brandon Gobel. Jana created Bike-A-Bike and got several thousands of “startup” dollars via her Kickstarter. Brandon uses his sweet Bullitt to deliver odds and ends around town. And on April 3, 2012 (and other days), Brandon got to help Jana deliver beehives. They were empty that day but they went out on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, with real, live bees in his Bullitt’s aluminum box.

Here’s a 22 photo slideshow of the April 3 trip. Brandon sent me a bunch of photos from the April 18 trip and I’ll add those to the slideshow soon. Just come back in a day and they will be on this page, and on my Flickr.

You’ll find the bees buzzing in East Garfield Park and at The “Awesome” Plant (er, just The Plant) in Back of the Yards.

* I’ve seen a lot of polls ask, “Why do you bike?” and they always have answers I don’t care about. Like, “for fun”, or “for the environment”. Yeah, right. The most significant motivator for why people do anything is how much it costs them. Bicycling is cheap, nearly free. The bus is downright expensive compared to it, and driving a car everywhere (like 60 miles round trip to work) is personal economic suicide.

Clean Power Ordinance, delayed again

Updated September 30, 2011: The ordinance never got on the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection’s agenda for September. So my fingers are crossed for the October meeting.

Clean power advocates march in Pilsen on Saturday, September 24, 2011. Photo by Ryan Williams. 

Instead of voting on the Clean Power Ordinance on September 8, 2011, the Committee on Committees, Ethics and Rules “re-referred” it to the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection. This is a companion post to Rollin’ beyond coal, on Grid Chicago.

What the Clean Power Ordinance is

It sets emissions standards for coal-powered plants in Chicago. It applies modern standards about air pollution, as they apply to coal and natural gas power plants, to any coal-powered plant in Chicago.

The Chicago Clean Power Coalition has a summary of the ordinance.

Why this is needed

Residents of Pilsen, Little Village, Bridgeport and other communities (pollution has no boundary) have suffered for decades from the release of carbon dioxide, mercury, lead, hydrochloric acid and other chemicals into the air. Read the Toxics Release Inventory for the Fisk Generating Station.

A large portion of the population is 18 and younger; this portion is growing. Pollution has a greater negative effect on young people.

The Fisk and Crawford power plants, owned by Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of Edison International, were grandfathered in to the Clean Air Act of 1970. That means the standards imposed by that legislation don’t apply.

The ordinance’s “Whereas” clause lists six studies that define the effects of certain levels of particulate matter (better known as soot) on human disease, mortality, and life expectancy. A 2002 Harvard study (PDF) that found the power plants combined caused 41 premature deaths per year.

What else

It appears that Alderman JoAnn Thompson, 16th Ward, is no longer a co-sponsor. The Chicago Clean Power Coalition lists her as a co-sponsor as of August 12, 2011, but on the ordinance document (ordinance number O2011-6489) published on the City Clerk’s website, her name is missing.

Midwest Generation, or one of its sister companies, Edison Mission Energy, is known to have lobbied the City Council, the Mayor’s Office, and the Department of Environment in 2010. “Midwest Generation officials said the ordinance is not needed because they already have started to comply with federal standards that will significantly cut pollution at their plants” (Chicago Tribune). The company also claims that a shutdown of the plant will harm electricity supply in Chicago. On that:

Chicago doesn’t actually need the electricity from the plants, though if the plants go offline before ongoing upgrades to local transmission infrastructure are completed it could cause instability on the grid including possible blackouts, according to a spokesman for the utility ComEd. (Midwest Energy News)

Alderman Solis (25th Ward) joined Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) during the election time this year as a lead sponsor, to help save his seat on the council in a fight with Cuahetemoc “Témoc” Morfin.

What’s next

Since the Committee on Committees, Ethics and Rules (CCER) “re-referred” it to the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection (CHEP), the members of CHEP, 18 of which are also on CCER, must discuss the ordinance. Oddly, CHEP did not place on its agenda for their Tuesday, September 27, 2011, meeting a consideration of the ordinance. After discussion, the committee can recommend that the full council vote on it. If the council passes it, Mayor Emanuel can sign or veto it.

In July, Mayor Emanuel talked about his support for the ordinance but didn’t go so far as to endorse it.

The air we breathe… is disgusting

Read the companion article on Grid Chicago

My friend Bill Vassilakis, and his partner Jeff Munie, won the 2011 Design Makes Change competition, The Air We Breathe.

This happened in June. I showed up in the evening during 2nd Fridays in Pilsen for the opening gallery, at 1915 S Halsted, to see Bill and Jeff’s competition entry. I had no idea at the time that they had won. I was impressed by the “Community Voicebox.”

What is the Community Voicebox?

From the project overview (PDF):

The “Voice Box” project claims that local environmental health issues are not solely a result of point source emissions, but a combination of political, economic and environmental issues, which combine to create overall inequalities in environmental health and morbidity.

The Voice Box project is focused around a mobile community forum where information is recorded and exchanged. The local knowledge of the community would be recorded and shared with others in the community, the general public and decision makers via a real time online outlet. This online website will serve as the ‘voice’ of the community and as a record of local knowledge. The Voice Box would be a built upon a mobile trailer with a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces, which open to create an inviting area for residents to relax, respond and exchange.

Two major components of Community Voicebox are the four-wheel, pedal-powered vehicle (acquired in July). The second part is recording audio and video and sharing it on their website. Bill and Jeff were able to purchase these things with a grant from the competition.

What are the environmental health issues?

In as few words as possible, ancient coal power plants in Chicago, namely Fisk and Crawford generating stations, owned by Midwest Generation. I’ve written before about these major pollution sources on Steven Can Plan where I cited a 2002 Harvard study (PDF) that found the power plants combined caused 41 premature deaths per year.

Did anyone else think that smokestacks created clouds?

Digging deeper into the Community Voicebox concept

I wrote about the Community Voicebox quadricycle on Grid Chicago – here I talk to Bill about the community and environmental aspects of the project.

How did you find out about The Air We Breathe (TAWB) competition?

Posters around town (at school, the library, restaurants, etc)

What made you decide to enter the competition?

The quality of air in Pilsen has been a topic of conversation among my friends and roommates as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood (about 5 years).  I was excited to hear about The Air We Breathe competition as a chance to bring everyday quality of life issues into focus in front of anyone walking down Halsted Street.

Did you have your idea for the entry (Community Voicebox) before or after knowing about the competition?

Although we developed our proposal specifically for the contest, we included elements we are familiar with and interested in.  We wanted it to be pedal powered, to directly engage the neighborhood and to present the community’s situation to the world via the internet.

Why did you create the Community Voicebox? What do you want to accomplish with the final product?

We created the voicebox because we wanted to bring the issue to everyone in the community, regardless of whether or not it is a priority for them, and document what they have to say about it.  Ultimately, we hope to use this documentation of the community’s various experiences and perspectives to inform local policy and to serve as a conduit for sharing solutions with other places that are similarly situated, in terms of environmental health issues.

Can you describe how and when the Community Voicebox is being built? (think logistics, materials, partners, designs, etc…)

We’re designing the Voicebox to be as adaptable as possible so that when we turn it over to student organizations or community groups, it can be modified to serve as many purposes as possible.  That said, the primary goal we hope to accomplish is to create a fun, comfortable space in which to offer an opportunity for anyone and everyone to tell their stories through whatever means they wish. This will happen on and around a four-wheel pedal car.

Aside from education, awareness, and exchanging information with the community, do you think Community Voicebox will help bring about a more visible and tangible change when it comes to pollution in Chicago?

Absolutely!  At minimum I hope that making the Voicebox a visible presence at Pilsen’s many community events (as big as Fiesta Del Sol and small as block parties on Miller Street) will help keep air quality on the local policy agenda.  The ideal outcome would be the a leveling of the playing field, in terms of environmental health.  Residents of Pilsen are exposed to levels of pollution that would never be tolerated in any other parts of the city. Basically we want to foster dialogue between the many communities of the neighborhood about pressing local issues.  Environmental health seems like a good place to start.

The Community Voicebox will be interviewing residents, and recording stories, in these parks and neighborhoods in the Lower West Side. 

A page from the project overview document showing a sample of the project’s research materials, mostly centered around the evidence of pollution in the Pilsen and surrounding neighborhoods. 

Did you know Chicago has a full-size wind turbine?

I bet you didn’t know that a produce distribution company in a tiny warehouse in Pilsen (eh, Blue Island Avenue and 14th Street) moved to a huge, sustainable warehouse in Back of the Yards with a wind turbine and big solar panels.

Epstein Engineering has more information on their website:

Epstein provided architectural design, civil engineering and LEED consulting services for the new 91,300 square foot headquarters and produce distribution facility for Testa Produce, Inc. located in the old Union Stockyards complex in Chicago, Illinois. The 12.86-acre project includes 20,000 square feet of Class A office space and a distribution center containing a 7,600 square foot 0° freezer, 24,700 square feet of cooler space, approximately 39,000 square feet of dry warehouse and 40 truck dock positions on two refrigerated cross docks.

The building aims to achieve LEED Platinum, but is not yet certified.

Chicago is the First City when it comes to permeable paving

The New York Times wrote on Sunday about the Pilsen pollution fighting bike lanes I’m really gung-ho about. They didn’t provide any new information, failing to even mention their location. But they did publish an excellent 3D graphic showing how it works! (The article’s main focus is how Chicago is predicted to become hotter and wetter, “more like Baton Rouge”, and how city planners, geniuses all, are working on this problem.)

First, here’s a photo of what the bike and parking lanes look like now, both made with a topper created by Italcementi that removes nitrous oxides from the air:

Then take a look at this diagram showing the streetscape design on Blue Island between Wood and Ashland (still under construction).

Hat tip to The Car Whisperer – “Chicago may stop paving streets altogether in ten years”.

Friday is final day for comments about Damen-Elston-Fullerton

Tomorrow, Friday, May 13, 2011, is the final day to email comments to Bridget Stalla, project manager for the Damen-Elston-Fullerton reconfiguration.

What should you do?

  1. Read an overview of the project and my analysis
  2. View photos of the posters at April’s open house to understand what will and won’t change
  3. Think of what you like or don’t like about the project
  4. Email your comments to Bridget: [email protected]
  5. Think about posting your comments here.

My draft comments

Here’s what I plan to email Bridget tomorrow:

  1. Bike lane on Damen – There should be a bike lane on Damen connecting the two ends north and south of Fullerton. Additionally, the bike lane should go THROUGH both intersections. See an example of a “through bike lane” in this photo. Too often bicyclists in Chicago are “dropped off” at intersections, left to fend for themselves and get caught in the same problems as automobiles. But automobiles and bicycles are different kinds of vehicles and need different treatments and direction.
  2. Roundabout – Was a roundabout considered for any of the three intersections? What were the results of this analysis? A modern, turbo roundabout should be given serious consideration for at least one of the three intersections.
  3. Curve and wide road on New Elston Avenue – On “New Elston Avenue” between Fullerton and Damen, there are two regular lanes and one bike lane in each direction. The widening of Elston was not justified. The high radius curve on New Elston Avenue on the east side of the project, and two regular lanes in each direction, will likely cause higher-speed traffic than bicyclists are used to on many roads on which they travel in great numbers. Automobile drivers speeding around the curve may enter the bike lanes. This is a good case for protected bike lanes at least on this part of the roadway.
  4. Removing the center island – Was removing the center island an alternative the project team considered?
  5. Queue backups caused by Fullerton-highway ramp intersection – The project area should be expanded to include the intersection to the west of the project area, at Fullerton/Kennedy ramp. Westbound drivers constantly and consistently block the Fullerton intersections with Damen and Elston while waiting to go through the signal at the highway ramp.

A bird’s eye view of the new configuration.

There used to be homes here

This is a testament to the destructive power of urban highways, be they tunneled, trenched, or elevated.

While biking through Chicago’s west side on Monday along the Congress branch of the Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line, my friend Tony remarked subtly on the “neighborhood” that lines the Eisenhower expressway (you call them highways or freeways):

There used to be homes on the other side of the street.

Indeed, there were homes across from the homes, like a typical neighborhood in any city. Or something useful and interesting for the neighborhood across the street that wasn’t 12 lanes of fast-moving automobiles and a rapid transit line, with all the noise, pollution, and crashes that comes with it.

Let’s not ever let this happen again; no more highways through neighborhoods.

Aaron Renn: Ideas about innovation

Note: I originally posted this entry immediately after writing the notes from Aaron’s keynote at the UIC Urban Innovation Symposium, put on by the graduate students in the Urban Planning and Policy Student Assocation or UPPSA. Aaron Renn writes The Urbanophile and works for a management consulting firm.

Aaron is probably best known for his 50 ideas to increase the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) ridership in an ideas challenge from the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and InnoCentive. (Boo to the Chicago Tribune who removes web pages after awhile.)

“How many ideas were implemented? Donut.”

The ideas in and of itself don’t make things happens.There are enormous structural barriers to innovate in the world. Most of you inspire not just to have innovative ideas, but to actually change for the better the places you live and work.

Consulting for businesses

Aaron’s career: Doing consulting for clients. “I used to think that people hired consultants because ppl think we’re smart guys. I thought I could use some of my ideas in the company. Nothing happened.”

Why do people and companies really hire consultants?

First off, there’s the tyranny of the organization chart. Everyone is in a box. Everything you do is seen in the box you occupy. What are the odds you will get an audience with the CEO, and then take your idea?

The reason people hire consultants is because they exist outside the organization chart. Innovation occurs in the bottom 95% of the organization chart pyramid. There’s no mechanism to have those ideas bubble up.

If something is untried, unproven, people are afraid to do it cuz they think their career’s on the line. So they bring in the biggest consultant they can find (meaning they have the biggest reputation).

On becoming known

I started my blog 4 years ago. I had no credentials. I started having journalists contact me. They would only paraphrase Aaron’s responses because “You are not authoritative enough to be quoted in my article.”

Only after I won the innovation challenge about the CTA would they start quoting me.

Building ideas for our cities

Aaron gave the audience a metaphor from the Bible of the sower [I missed the exact reference if he gave one]: “Our problem is not enough fertile seeds. It’s a problem of not having enough fertile soil.”

“I think building on assets is a trap. It’s the stuff we did yesterday.” Having a lot of assets to focus on may blind you to the ways you need to think about in order to innovate.

I see cities all the time defending the past. Cities are about people, not buildings. We always talk about building and form, but we don’t think about the people.

It’s very clear they’re talking about the buildings in that neighborhood – you can’t love the neighborhood if you hate the neighbors. Think about the actual human beings your project affects.

“If you don’t know where people are, you can’t lead them somewhere else.”

I like to travel. I like to meet the local bloggers and have them take me around. If I didn’t know [which city I was in], nothing about that building would tell me where I was. I don’t get a strong sense of the place. I think we have to think deeper about our cities. Think about the unique chartacter, history, and vlues of the cities we’re in. A lot of our cities seem kind of the same, and they don’t have that quaint Euro charm.

How can we make our plans, our cities, and our buildings more expressive of where they are? This is in this place and it’s right here. I think Chicago is one city that has done that. “It’s not about creating a sense of place, it’s about creating a sense of this place.”

© 2017 Steven Can Plan

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑