By MaryBeth Radeck
Living in a gleaming “green” skyscraper like Aqua in Lakeshore East in 2015, one would never suspect that nuclear waste was once used as landfill here, beneath gleaming skyscrapers with valuations just as lofty. Nestled between the Chicago River, Millennium Park and the Lakefront, radioactive soil was used as landfill and dates back to the early 1900’s—the pre-electric-light era of gas lamps.
Even before radioactivity was discovered, it was created in the form of thorium-contaminated industrial waste from manufacturing by the Lindsay Light Company. Since there is no record of where this soil was used, construction in Lakeshore East and Streeterville is monitored by the EPA. Low-level radioactive soil is removed as buildings are built. Packed securely, the low-level radioactive soil is shipped across the country and stowed in Tooele County near Salt Lake City, Utah, along with 80% of the United States’ low-level nuclear waste.
The resting place of the majority of our nation’s low-level radioactive waste is Clive in Tooele County, Utah. Tooele is lightly populated at just over 8.4 people per square mile, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2014), by white residents with an average per capita income of $61,412. Only 8.7% of residents are below the poverty level. Solidly middle class, Tooele County has earned the dubious distinction of a “national sacrifice zone” as described by Shumway & Jackson (2008), an area where toxic waste release and storage had become a way of life and living. Over time, Janofsky (2002) said residents had become immune to the toxic label and largely proud of their role as toxic stewards–and the income it represents.
Not so for the Native American nation nestled entirely within its borders. The Skull Valley Goshute Tribe, a sovereign nation, has no voice on the toxic economy which surrounds them, but suffered from its residue and releases from three industrial Superfund sites and U.S. military installations. Due to what their largely white American neighbors call progress, the Goshute Tribe in Skull Valley survived taking their lands in the 1800s but has barely survived the U.S. toxic legacy. Had it not been for the EPA’s efforts over the last decade, the Skull Valley Goshutes might have disappeared altogether.