Cleaning Up Industrial Waste in Calumet Heights IL

by Danielle Cooperstock for SUST 240

The United States Department of Justice announced on September 3, 2014 on their Office of Public Affairs that a $26 settlement was agreed upon by the federal Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency to fund the land clean up for Calumet Heights, a Chicago neighborhood on the Southeast Side. In three areas around the neighborhood, including Carrie Gosch Elementary School, the soil is contaminated with lead and arsenic which was caused by the waste produced during the industrial development of the area from the 1900s to 1985.

Calumet Heights is located on the East Side of Chicago, just northwest of the Calumet River which runs into Lake Michigan. Both Calumet Heights and the Calumet River have been heavily industrialized which has resulted in their high levels of pollution and unsafe conditions. (Photo: Re/max Northern Illinois)

Calumet Heights is located on the East Side of Chicago, just northwest of the Calumet River which runs into Lake Michigan. Both Calumet Heights and the Calumet River have been heavily industrialized which has resulted in their high levels of pollution and unsafe conditions. (Photo: Re/max Northern Illinois)

The settlement was reached between the Atlantic Richfield Company and E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co. because under the Superfund law, they are liable for the cleanup since they or their predecessors are or were the owners of the factories that caused the lead and arsenic contamination in the Calumet neighborhood. The cleanup will consist of removing as much as two feet of soil from the affected areas to replace it with uncontaminated soil. The contaminated soil will then be sent off to landfills that will contain the toxins.

What is even more shocking than the high levels of contamination in Calumet Heights is the lack of community awareness about the contaminated soil as well as the plan to clean it up. The Post-Tribune correspondent, Carrie Napoleon, talked to many members of the community in her article, “In path of pollution, residents react to $26 million cleanup pact” to get their reactions to the $26 million settlement only to find out that no-one in the neighborhood knew about it, but none were surprised. Calumet Heights has historically been a heavily industrialized neighborhood: the first factory in Calumet was built in the early 1900s and produced copper until it was bought out in 1920s by U.S. Smelting, then Refining and Mining, and then by USS Lead.

It is vital for the health of future to clean up our planet! (photo:

It is vital for the health of future to clean up our planet! (photo:

In 2012, USA Today released an article by Alison Young and Peter Eisler that presented the results from soil testing in over 400 areas in the United States in which there were potential lead smelters unknown to federal regulators (for they were in operation before the EPA was created). The experimenters collected soil samples within one mile of where the factories once operated from areas such as residential yards (with permission), public parks, schools, athletic fields, and public land. Their findings concluded that lead contamination in soil was generally highest in cities such as Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia because of their history with industrialization. The article also mentions that the population density of these cities added to the lead contamination because there were most likely more cars being driven around that were burning and polluting leaded gasoline.

In various neighborhoods in Chicago, there have been numerous cases of lead and/or arsenic contamination caused by the waste byproducts of factories. Just South of Calumet Heights is an area known to the U.S. EPA in Region 5 as the Lake Calumet Cluster site. This area is approximately eighty-seven acres and is heavily industrialized, both historically and currently. Both the U.S. EPA and the Illinois EPA have been instrumental in funding the cleanup of this site that began in 1979 to limit the affects of the toxins in the Alburn Incinerator, an unnamed parcel, U.S. Drum II, and the Paxton Area Lagoons. The cleanup funds provided for action such as replacing contaminated soil and using clay caps to contain the hazardous substances, which included lead and arsenic.

The high levels of soil contamination found in Chicago are not only an environmental issue, but they are also a human rights issue. King County in — released information about lead and arsenic which includes their effects on one’s health. Lead is more toxic to children because ingesting contaminated soil, paint chips, or any other source it may be found in, can cause both long-term and short-term health problems. However, simple exposure to lead can result in health problems as well. Short-term exposure of lead can cause brain and kidney damage while long-term exposure can cause changes to the blood and central nervous systems, blood pressure, kidneys, and the body’s ability to metabolize vitamin D.

The health effects of arsenic, however, are symptoms that could have derived from various other sources which make it difficult for people to realize that it is their environment that is giving them their health problems. The effects of short-term exposure to arsenic include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, loss of appetite, shaking, coughing and having a headache. The effects of long-term exposure to arsenic include skin pigmentation, numbness, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, vascular disease, skin cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and liver cancer.

The effects of development and production have been detrimental to our planet and humankind. Now is the time to create a more positive and sustainable future. The U.S. EPA has been working to clean up the mess that humans have made; however, there is just so much of it. There needs to be more awareness and education around pollution about the harm it can have on our planet and on our health. The citizens of Calumet Heights, as well as other contaminated neighborhoods, have the right to know about what is in their soil so that they can make educated decisions about how to engage with the environment around them.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Brownfields, Chicago, Communities, Education, News, Pollution, Students, Sustainability, Transportation, Waste | Tagged

RU Student/Faculty Team Give Presentation to the Schaumburg Community Garden Club

This past Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the 25-year-old Schaumburg Community Garden Club, SUST undergrad MaryBeth Radeck and professor Mike Bryson teamed up to give a presentation at the Spring Valley Nature Center about the sustainable landscape transformation at Roosevelt’s Schaumburg Campus and the development of the RU Community Garden.

The local gardeners, most of them senior citizens with years of experience growing flowers, vegetables, and herbs, were keenly interested to learn about MaryBeth’s experiments using a self-watering “keyhole” container garden that also serves as its own composter; and the recent installation of a drip irrigation system this past summer. In term, the RU team learned that the Garden Club raises money for local environmental programs (such as the Mighty Acorns youth programming at Spring Valley), holds an annual native plant sale, and donates all of its hundreds of pounds of produce to the Schaumburg Township Food Pantry.

RU Presentation to SCGC 2014-09-10


Posted in Agriculture, Education, Events, Food, Gardening, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Sustainability

Cutting Back on Pollution (and Jobs) at Coal-Fired Power Plants in Joliet and Romeville

As reported in the Friday 8 Aug 2014 edition of the Joliet Herald-News, NRG Energy company is planning to reducing coal-fired power generation at its Romeoville IL station and convert the coal-fired plant in Joliet over time to natural gas. In the process, the company (which acquired the power stations from California-based Midwest Generation earlier this year) will significantly downsize the workforce at both plants, eventually laying off about 200 workers in the region.

NRG's Generating Station in Joliet IL

NRG’s Generating Station in Joliet IL

While the loss of local jobs is painful consequence of this action, the environmental impacts of this change will be, on the whole, positive. The long-running Joliet and Romeoville power stations, both situated along industrialized stretches of the Des Plaines River and in the midst of dense human populations in Will County, are two of the biggest point-sources of air pollution in the Chicago region. The planned changes by NRG are expected to produce a significant cut in carbon emissions for the state of Illinois; and the reduced air and particulate pollution from burning coal will benefit approximately 200,000 citizens in the Joliet metro area as tens of thousands more in northern Will County region.

The planned shift to natural gas combustion at the Joliet plant is part of a nationwide trend to utilize natural gas in lieu of coal, which is far dirtier to burn, and is plentiful in the US due to ramped up extraction processes such as hydrofracturing. Nevertheless, fracking is a highly fraught process that poses threats to groundwater sources both in its excessive use of freshwater and its production of high volumes of toxic wastewater; and it is a politically charged point of controversy here in Illinois and in other states, particularly Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Posted in Business, Economics, Energy, Joliet, News, Pollution, Waste, Water

RU Installs Drip Irrigation System for Community Garden at Schaumburg Campus

by Mary Beth Radeck

Trenches were dug in the RUrbanPioneers Community Garden in June 2014 for drip irrigation installation (photo: M. Radeck)

Trenches were dug in the RUrbanPioneers Community Garden in June 2014 for drip irrigation installation (photo: M. Radeck)

The Environmental Sustainability team at Roosevelt University’s Schaumburg campus teamed up in late June to install the first-ever drip irrigation into the community garden, now in it third growing season in 2014.

Previously, water barrels were filled and irrigation consisted of hand-carried buckets, a time-intensive practice. Two years in the making, Environmental Sustainability interns Mary Beth Radeck, Kevin Markowski and Mary Rasic partnered with Pedro Perez, Chief Engineer at the Schaumburg Campus, to plan and execute this improvement. The team expects to save up to 50% of the water used to irrigate the garden this year—thus reducing the effort and costs of irrigation, but also improving the environment, too.

Irrigation for each garden is in place, awaiting micro-tubing to each individual plant (photo: M. Radeck

Irrigation for each garden is in place, awaiting micro-tubing to each individual plant (photo: M. Radeck)

Drip irrigation delivers water slowly, at low pressure near the plant’s roots, so that none is wasted and less water evaporates. Usually used with flower beds and gardens or hard to water areas, drip is more efficient and effective than spray irrigation, and much more precise by allowing maximum control over how much water is given to each individual plant. Control of the water reduces runoff and erosion, as well.

A drip system is easy to install and even available at local home improvement centers such as Home Depot. Every garden should have one, especially as water costs rise and water sources — whether deep or shallow wells or, in the case of Schaumburg, Lake Michigan — continue to be stressed by pollution, climate change, and urban development. For more information on drip irrigation and other water-saving methods, see the WaterSense website of the EPA.

Mary Rasic and Kevin Markowski will no longer have to fill water barrels at the Schaumburg Campus garden (photo: M. Radeck, 2014)

Mary Rasic and Kevin Markowski will no longer have to fill water barrels at the Schaumburg Campus garden (photo: M. Radeck, 2014)

Posted in Agriculture, Food, Gardening, Green Design, News, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Water | 2 Comments

Roosevelt Presents “Transformative Sustainability” at the 2014 GreenTown Conference

This afternoon at the GreenTown 2014 Conference at UIC, Campus as Community Change Agent: Higher Education’s Role in Advancing Sustainability in the Chicagoland Region, a team from Roosevelt University will give a presentation entitled “Transformative Sustainability: the University as Living Laboratory for Connecting Students to the Community.”

Paul Matthews (Assistant VP of Campus Planning & Operations) will map out RU’s sustainability vision first implemented in 2010, particularly in terms of its buildings, grounds, and operations; MaryBeth Radeck (undergraduate SUST major and Sustainability Associate in Physical Resources) will discuss the transformation of RU’s Schaumburg Campus the last few years and the role students have played in this process; and Mike Bryson (SUST Program Director and Associate Professor of Humanities) will talk about the Sustainability Studies curriculum, service learning, student research, and community-university connections.

During a half-day forum, GreenTownparticipants will learn about what colleges and universities are doing to advance sustainability throughout the Chicagoland region through academics, community development and infrastructure.  As higher education works to train the next generation of sustainability leaders, learn how they are making real change in communities where they are committed and provide feedback on what more can be done.

The target audience for this forum includes sustainability directors, facilities and landscape managers, food and nutrition service directors, community outreach staff, building engineers, capital planning staff, sustainability/planning/business department faculty, and students at Chicago area, Illinois and Midwest colleges and universities.

Goals of GreenTown 2014’s Campus as Community Change Agent forum:

  1. Engage a broad spectrum of university/college staff, faculty and students in sharing and learning about best practices, programs and initiatives that are driving sustainability change on campus and in the community.
  2. Create learning for colleges and university staff, faculty and students around the challenges and opportunities related to engaging the broader community in sustainability.
  3. Provide networking opportunities for staff, faculty and students across colleges and universities.
Posted in Conferences, Education, Events, Green Design, Planning, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Sustainability

Earth Week Events at RU’s Schaumburg Campus

The Roosevelt University community is invited to the following Earth Week events and activities held in Schaumburg. Help make the NW suburbs more sustainable and our campus more beautiful and ecologically productive!

RUrbanPioneersThursday, April 24, 1 p.m. Tree Planting: Please join the Schaumburg Campus community in the annual tree planting ceremony on the north east lawn. This event helps support our Tree Campus USA membership.

Saturday, April 26, 10 a.m. Community Garden Kickoff: Come out and help with the opening of the RUrbanPioneers community garden. This is the perfect opportunity to get out of the house and welcome spring by enjoying the fresh air. This will be the 3rd season of our garden, which supplied the Food4You dining center with 800 lbs of fresh produce last year, and which donated 100 lbs of veggies to the Hanover Park Food Pantry.

An  eWaste box located on the shipping dock is available to dispose old electronics, batteries, etc. The Earth will thank you for diverting these items from a landfill!

Map view of the Landscape Transformations to date at the Sch Campus of RU (text by SUST major and sustainability intern MB Radeck)

Map view of the Landscape Transformations to date at the Sch Campus of RU (text by SUST major and sustainability intern MB Radeck)

Environmental sustainability activities are being managed by Kevin Markowski (, Physical Resources Student Worker and Environmental Sustainability Associate.

Posted in Education, Events, Gardening, Recycling, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Sustainability

Blue Island’s Resistance to Annexation by Chicago

Blue Island map in ChgoThis article by WBEZ’s Curious City features Blue Island, a Calumet-area inner suburb on Chicago’s far southern border that many years ago resisted annexation by a then rapidly expanding Chicago. Located at a juncture of several railroads, including the Rock Island Line commuter train that connects Chicago and Joliet, Blue Island is a vibrant, diverse, and close-knit community that exemplifies the potential of sustainable suburban development.

If Blue Island, a Southwestern suburb of just four square miles, once beat back Chicago’s attempt to annex it, we shouldn’t be surprised that they trounced other suburbs in a Curious City face-off.

Recall that curious citizen Jim Padden asked Curious City how Chicago grew over time by annexing its neighbors. (The answer? It’s in an animated map).

But then, we asked you: Which Chicago suburb’s story of resisting annexation do you want to hear more about?

Blue Island prevailed against Oak Park, which is on the city’s western border, and Evanston to the north. I want to thank the thousands of you who voted.

Where’s Blue Island?

If you’re not familiar with the place, Blue Island is a diverse, proudly working class suburb of about 24,000 people. It’s about 16 miles southwest of Chicago’s loop, as the crow flies.

To get to the heart of why this suburb said ‘No thanks’ when Chicago came knocking, we need to go back in time.

Read the entire article by Tricia Bobeda here.

Posted in Blue Island, Chicago, Communities, Economics, News, Planning, Sustainability, Transportation