TagOlympic Games

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.

World Cup and Olympics construction will disadvantage Rio’s poor

It is a scene we see every four years when the Olympics come around: Development that displaces a group of people who lack a good defense, unlike the futebol team they used to pay $1.80 to see.

There used to be a standing-room only general admission area in the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, years ago, but no longer exists today, according to an article yesterday in the New York Times. (Rio will host the 2016 Olympics after beating Tokyo, Madrid, and Chicago.)

The price of tickets is important to cariocas (residents of Rio) because of the stadium’s “role as an egalitarian space in a heavily unequal city like Rio.”

“What could be lost is the nature of the stadium experience as something that cuts across the class segregation of the city as a whole,” Bruno Carvalho said, a Rio native who is an assistant professor of Brasilian studies at Princeton. “Do you give up the vitality of the Maracanã as a public space, a rare type of space in Rio where you can actually get together people of different social classes?”

Members of the National Fans Association understand that safety and comfort upgrades, for which the general admission area was removed, have to be made for an event such as the World Cup 2014, but they want to ensure that other venues under construction be integrated and their designers consult local urban planners and neighborhood groups.

Nine new venues will be constructed for the Rio Olympic Games, and seven venues will be constructed but removed after the closing ceremony. For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, thousands of city residents were “relocated.” Some reports say 15,000 moved voluntarily with compensation and another says 300,000 were evicted.

I have a concern that in the next five years, there will be founded accusations of cariocas’ civil rights as “progress” pushes them out of the way.

Photo of the Maracanã stadium by Phil Whitehouse.

Update on Federal Borrowed Bus Program

A colleague at work pointed me to a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report titled, “Olympic Games: Federal Government Provides Significant Funding and Support,” which gives a little more explanation about the so-called “Federal Borrowed Bus Program” I wrote about in the previous post.

The report was published in September 2000. The most relevant part says, “[U.S. Department of Transportation] provided approximately $17 million to state and local transit and transit planning agencies to pay for the delivery, operation, and return of the 1,500 buses, which were borrowed from communities throughout the United States.”

I’m glad to know my question, “What is the federal borrowed bus program?”, has been partially answered. I’d like to know more about it, including how the funding is appropriated (is it in Congressional legislation or within the Department?), which communities provided buses to borrow, and the attitudes of the lending agencies about this program.

Other sections in the report my colleague pointed out:

  • “Another 1,000 troops were also used as bus drivers to transport athletes, coaches, officials, and military and law enforcement personnel to various Olympic venues. According to DOD [Department of Defense] officials, military personnel were used as bus drivers because ACOG [Atlanta Committee of the Olympic Games] and local law enforcement agencies could not provide them. The estimated cost to provide the military bus and van drivers was $978,450, including $105,800 for commercial drivers’ licenses and $300,000 for training.” (Page 31)
  • “EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] provided about $313,000 to build a bike path to access the Olympic Centennial Park area and about $7 million for sewer system construction related to the Olympic stadium.” (Page 33)

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