TagBronzeville

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.

Finding interesting data in the building permits dataset

I had several great conversations with fellow #chihacknight visitors at the 1871 tech hub (222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza) about how to reveal more information about what’s being built in Chicago. I had introduced Licensed Chicago Contractors at the previous week’s hack night and tonight I showed site changes I made like how much faster it is now that I use DataTables’s server-side processing function.

Some of the discussions resulted in suggestions to try new tools and methods that would make processing the data more efficient, or more revealing. What are the ways I can aggregate the data, or connect to similar data from other sources?

One of the new features I announced I’ll be adding is statistics on building activity by neighborhood. I started testing some queries to see the results, and to find the query that outputs that information in a way that’ll pique users’ interests.

I calculated the aggregate estimated costs of all building permit activity for the past 90 days in select neighborhoods. All of the data was automatically generated using a simple MySQL query, but one that will get faster after switching to Postgres. (I eliminated any project whose estimated cost was less than $1,000 because there are many project types that are $0 to several hundred dollars.)

  • Logan Square: 77 projects, totaling $16,295,997.50 at a $211,636.33 average cost
  • West Loop: 30 projects, totaling $27,646,899.00 at a $921,563.30 average cost
  • Andersonville: 6 projects, totaling $358,770.00 at a $59,795.00 average cost
  • Bronzeville: 34 projects, totaling $17,050,662.00 at a $501,490.06 average cost
  • Hyde Park: 20 projects, totaling $13,492,265.00 at a $674,613.25 average cost
  • Humboldt Park: 35 projects, totaling $41,917,988.00 at a $1,197,656.80 average cost

How does Humboldt Park double the other neighborhoods’ average? I think it’s pretty simple: this $40 million Salvation Army residence that’s going to be built at 825 N Christiana Avenue.

The results for Bronzeville were higher than I expected because this is a distressed neighborhood that has lost of lot of population and has seen little development in the past several years. This isn’t to say the neighborhood is poor – I saw a report last fall that highlighted how the purchasing power of Bronzeville residents was quite high relative to neighboring communities.

Ronnie Harris showed me the report when I participated in the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s civic app competition and hackathon. We, along with Josh Engel, designed Build It! Bronzeville, although my participation was really pushing them to develop Josh’s game idea more and construct a paper version of it. Our team won the competition and Ronnie and Josh have kept working on it (I saw them at last week’s hack night).

Projects that pushed up Bronzeville’s average included several multi-family homes at around $1.4 million each on the blocks of 4700 and 4800 S Calumet Avenue.

Code discussion

I can’t test for the “Loop” right now in the way I have my data structured because a LIKE ‘%loop%’ query of the database will include “West Loop” records.

I need to change how the building permit data is stored – in my database – a little so that my site’s PHP codebase and MySQL queries can sift through the data faster. For example, I’m storing several key-value pairs as a JSON-encoded string in a TEXT field. One #chihacknight developer suggested I switch from MySQL to PostgreSQL because Postgres has native JSON-parsing functions.

I looked up how to use Postgres’s JSON functions and realized that, yes, I probably should do that, but that I also need to change the array structure of the data I’m encoding to JSON. In other words, with a tiny change now, I can be better prepared for the eventual migration to Postgres.

Sox-35th Metra station opened on Sunday

I had been giving construction updates on the new Metra station on 35th Street in Bronzeville/Bridgeport but I missed that the opening day was Sunday! I caught these photos in my Flickr contacts page, by Eric Pancer. Blair Kamin explains why it looks so bad.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill came up with a promising design for the station, one that justified the demolition of a Mies-designed brick hut that reportedly served as the entrance to an underground testing facility for explosives during the Cold War.

But then, things went seriously off the rails.

See all of his photos in the set.

Metra will have a different schedule on game days. From their press release:

Metra will increase its service on game days to accommodate White Sox fans. For weekday afternoon games, an extra outbound train will leave the station after the final out. For weekday evening games, Train 531 (departing LaSalle St. at 11:15 p.m.) will have more cars, and an extra outbound all-stop train will operate about 30 minutes after the last out. For weekend games, an inbound extra train will arrive at the station about an hour before the first pitch, and an outbound extra will operate about 30 minutes after the final out.

If you ride the Rock Island District line, you must check out the new schedule (PDF).

Metra 35th St. station surely won’t win any design awards

UPDATE 04-07-11: The station opened on April 3, 2011. Blair Kamin explains why it doesn’t look as good as originally designed:

It didn’t have to be this way. The Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill came up with a promising design for the station, one that justified the demolition of a Mies-designed brick hut that reportedly served as the entrance to an underground testing facility for explosives during the Cold War.

But then, things went seriously off the rails.

This new Metra commuter/regional rail station at 35th Street and Wentworth/Federal won’t win any design awards. Neither will the Lovana S. “Lou” Jones/Bronzeville Station stand out for having such a generic design.

The station under construction as of October 3, 2010.

Artist’s renderings of the station and street-level plaza, looking northwest. Left photo from Metra’s website and right photo from Singh & Associates’s website.

The amount of visible concrete used in the stairs and ramps construction (one complete set on either side of the tracks) is fitting if you consider the station’s surroundings: a 12-lane highway (the Dan Ryan, I90/94), thousands of surface auto parking spaces to the west (for the White Sox stadium), and an empty lot.

But what if we looked for design inspiration from the east?

Imagine a station shelter modeled after the sound mitigation “tube” over the Illinois Institute of Technology McCormick-Tribune Campus Center a few blocks away at State Street designed by Rem Koolhaas.

Photos above taken by Steven Crane.

Throw in some curves like the Canary Wharf stations on the Jubilee and Docklands Light Railway lines.

Photo of the Canary Wharf Docklands Light Railway (DLR) station by stephenk1977.

Photo of the Canary Wharf Jubilee Underground Line station by Payton Chung.

Companies involved:

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