Illustration: Peter Hoey

In 1980, the United States Environmental Protection Agency launched a massive effort to clean up the most heavily polluted plots of land in the country. The properties, called “Superfund” sites, after the billion-dollar trust fund Congress established to pay for cleanup, varied widely in size and condition, but all threatened the health of the people living and working around them. In Chicago’s six-county metropolitan region, 14 sites were identified; today, cleanup efforts continue at six (detailed below).



1. Yeoman Creek Landfill


Location: Southeast Waukegan
Backstory: From 1959 to 1969, a 70-acre landfill with no protective liner
Damage: PCBs (highly toxic, cancerous materials), industrial solvents, lead, zinc, explosive landfill gases
Cleanup: At press time, the final landfill cover construction was nearly complete and awaiting federal inspection. Once the rehabilitation is complete, the City of Waukegan and the local school district intend to turn the site into a pedestrian park.


2. Joliet Army Ammunition Plant

Location: Between Interstate 55 and Illinois State Route 53
Backstory: By 1945, the largest munitions factory in the world
Damage: Unexploded ordnance, TNT, dynamite, and metal in soil and groundwater
Cleanup: The $110-million, ten-year project should be completed in 2007. The Army is turning the rehabilitated land over in phases to federal, state, and local agencies. The bulk of it (19,100 acres) will be absorbed into the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie.


3. Outboard Marine Corp.

Location: North end of Waukegan Harbor
Backstory: Site once housed a sport engine manufacturer and a coke and gas plant.
Damage: PCBs in harbor sediment and soil
Cleanup: OMC dredged the northern harbor area in 1992, reducing the PCB load considerably. Soil at the 36-acre coke plant property is in cleanup by General Motors and North Shore Gas; rehabilitated land will help launch the city’s lakefront redevelopment effort.


4. Lenz Oil Service

Location: Route 83 in Lemont
Backstory: From 1961 to 1985, an oil and solvent recycler
Damage: A contaminated oil layer underground threatens the nearby Des Plaines River.
Cleanup: In August 2002, after years of squabbling, 48 companies agreed to contribute money or labor to help clean up the oil layer. A final plan, due in 2006, is required before cleanup.


5 & 6. Kerr-McGee (two out of four still in cleanup)

Location: West Chicago to south of Warrenville
Backstory: A lighting company that worked with the federal atomic energy program
Damage: Radioactive byproduct in Kress Creek, the DuPage River, yards, parks
Cleanup: The cleanup effort was divided into four separate proj-ects, including soil excavation at 675 homes, which is complete. Still under way is a massive project that cleans radioactive material and metals from Kress Creek and the west branch of the DuPage River.