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posted: 3/5/2013 5:01 AM

Sinkholes can occur in suburbs, but less severely

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  • An 8-foot-by-8-foot sinkhole appeared on the property of Algonquin resident Tom Gamoe in 2008.

      An 8-foot-by-8-foot sinkhole appeared on the property of Algonquin resident Tom Gamoe in 2008.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • A 2009 sinkhole collapsed the pavement from underneath a Des Plaines police officer and his squad car in 2009 along Lee Street.

      A 2009 sinkhole collapsed the pavement from underneath a Des Plaines police officer and his squad car in 2009 along Lee Street.
    abc 7

  • A 2009 sinkhole collapsed the pavement from underneath a Des Plaines police officer and his squad car in 2009 along Lee Street.

      A 2009 sinkhole collapsed the pavement from underneath a Des Plaines police officer and his squad car in 2009 along Lee Street.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Demolition experts watch as the home of Jeff Bush, 37, is destroyed Sunday in Seffner, Fla. The 20-foot-wide opening of the sinkhole was almost covered by the house, and rescuers said there were no signs of life since the hole opened Thursday night.

      Demolition experts watch as the home of Jeff Bush, 37, is destroyed Sunday in Seffner, Fla. The 20-foot-wide opening of the sinkhole was almost covered by the house, and rescuers said there were no signs of life since the hole opened Thursday night.
    Chris O'Meara/AP Photo

  • This huge sinkhole took a couple of cars with it when it broke open in the parking lot of the Manor Restaurant in East Dundee in February 2002.

       This huge sinkhole took a couple of cars with it when it broke open in the parking lot of the Manor Restaurant in East Dundee in February 2002.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • A sinkhole at the northwest corner of Dundee and Hicks roads in Palatine in July 2011 was caused by a collapsed sewer during a heavy summer rainfall.

       A sinkhole at the northwest corner of Dundee and Hicks roads in Palatine in July 2011 was caused by a collapsed sewer during a heavy summer rainfall.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

The disappearance and presumed death of a Florida man late last week through a sinkhole that opened up in his bedroom seemed the epitome of an unforeseeable tragedy.

But that's likely not quite true, local geologists and engineers say.

And while sinkholes do occur in the Chicago suburbs, experts agree they aren't likely to happen as severely, or for the same reasons, as the one that claimed the life of Floridian Jeff Bush.

While Florida sits atop a weak type of limestone that dissolves easily in an active water table, the Chicago area has among the most solid ground there is, said Bill Prigge, principal of Midland Standard Engineering and Testing in East Dundee.

"The bedrock in this part of Illinois is particularly strong," Prigge said. "It's called dolomite limestone."

Sinkholes that have occurred in the Chicago suburbs are most often caused by water main breaks, though natural springs -- of the kind that exist in the East Dundee area -- also are potential factors, he said.

Whenever water moves below the ground, it also moves what's around it -- eventually affecting what's above it as well, East Dundee Village Administrator Bob Skurla said.

Last September, a sinkhole began to open in the parking lot of Dundee Automotive at Route 72 and near Route 68, causing some damage to the pawnshop next door as well.

A decade earlier, a 10-by-15-foot area of the parking lot outside Dundee Manor restaurant sank as much as 7 feet into the ground, causing three vehicles to fall in.

Though a water main break was the first thing suspected in both cases, the proximity of the natural springs that supply D'Angelo Natural Spring Water in the village also has come into consideration, Skurla and Prigge said.

A 15-by 20-foot sinkhole that opened in July 2011 at the intersection of Dundee and Hicks roads in Palatine was determined to have been caused by a collapsed sewer after a major summer rainstorm.

"Because of age and corrosive gases, the sewer crown deteriorated over time," said Allison Fore, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. "The heavy rain contributed to acceleration of the sinkhole's development and subsequent enlargement."

As far as last week's tragedy in Florida, what was immediately obvious to C. Pius Weibel, senior geologist of the Illinois State Geological Survey, was that the victim's house was built on a site it shouldn't have been.

"Certainly he was in the worst spot," Weibel said.

Though residents of that area should have known they were in an area prone to sinkholes, Weibel speculates that no ground survey was ever done before construction began on the house, likely decades ago. An in-depth and costly study would be needed to determine whether the houses near Bush's face a similar threat.

Even in areas where conditions are favorable for sinkholes, they could occur clustered together or spread out, Weibel said.

Florida is among the states most prone to sinkholes -- certainly more prone than most areas of Illinois. Weibel and Prigge agreed that southern Illinois is the part of the state most likely to see sinkholes caused for the same reasons as in Florida.

"Wherever there's caves, there's potential for sinkholes," Prigge said.

He added that the complete collapse that happened last week is usually preceded by some warning of structural damage -- like cracked walls or the inability to close windows -- that allows some time for preventive measures to be taken.

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