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WASHINGTON, D.C.-The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), and the State of Illinois today announced a comprehensive Superfund settlement with Kerr-McGee Chemical that is expected to result in the clean-up of radioactive wastes and the restoration of natural resources at two Superfund sites in and around the city of West Chicago, Illinois, at a cost of approximately $74 million. With this clean-up, the last radioactive contamination remaining from 40 years of disposal from the Rare Earths Facility, which was operated by Kerr-McGee and its predecessors, will be removed and the ecosystem will be restored.

A consent decree, filed today in the U.S. District Court in Chicago, will require Kerr-McGee to excavate approximately 77,000 cubic yards of radioactive contamination in the West Branch DuPage River and Kress Creek and ship the contaminated soils to a facility licensed to handle such wastes. Kerr-McGee will also be required to repair any damage caused to vegetation, banks, and waterways as a result of its clean-up activities.

“Today marks a major victory for the citizens and environment of the Chicago area,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kelly A. Johnson, of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The last radioactive contamination from operations that ceased long ago will be cleaned up and the natural resources in the area will be restored. We applaud the years of cooperation among the many interested parties, including the local communities, that led to today’s achievement.”

“We traveled a long road to reach this agreement, but we ended up in the right place: restoration of the West Branch of the DuPage River and Kress Creek,” said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Everyone in the area will benefit from this settlement.”

“This agreement is truly the result of federal, state and local governments and entities working together to ensure that these sites that once were contaminated are going to become safe as neighborhoods and a park.” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “On behalf of the state, I will work to ensure that the damaged areas are restored.”

In addition to the clean-up and restoration work, Kerr-McGee will pay $6 million into the Superfund for past costs that EPA incurred in working on the sites; reimburse up to $1.675 million in future EPA oversight costs; pay the State of Illinois and DOI $100,000 and $75,000, respectively, for costs relating to overseeing natural resources work; and perform activities or spend money to enhance natural resources in the waterways and the DuPage County Forest Preserve at a cost of up to $800,000.

The clean-up of the West Branch DuPage River and Kress Creek will extend for approximately eight miles from the City of West Chicago down to the McDowell Dam (south of Warrenville). It is expected to take approximately four years to complete. The sediments and soils of the banks and waterways were contaminated with thorium residues from the 1930s through the early 1970s as a result of the production of thorium materials at the Rare Earths Facility for use in defense and other applications.

“The benefits of this settlement to natural resources are twofold,” said Robyn Thorson, Regional Director for the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “In addition to removing radioactive contamination, this plan will restore streambanks, aquatic habitats, and other natural areas affected by clean-up activities. The Service believes it is essential that the communities’ fish and wildlife resources are addressed in the settlement.”

The West Branch DuPage River and Kress Creek are the last areas of radioactive contamination in the vicinity of the Rare Earths Facility remaining to be cleaned up. Under prior EPA orders, Kerr-McGee spent approximately $115 million cleaning up radioactive contamination in residential areas, West Chicago’s Reed-Keppler Park, and West Chicago’s Sewage Treatment Plant from approximately 1995 to 2004. Kerr-McGee, pursuant to a license from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Department of Nuclear Safety, is decommissioning the Rare Earths Facility.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period.