W. Chicago neighbors banding together against thorium

A new resident group has formed to agitate for disclosure and action on thorium issues in West Chicago.

The group, Protection of Lives Against Thorium, will hold its first meeting tonight.

Thorium is a radioactive element that causes cancer with long-term exposure.

"We're concerned that knowledge isn't being openly shared and efforts aren't being made to make sure everyone understands what's going on," said member Kathy Bentham, who lives near the former Kerr-McGee plant.

Thorium was spread throughout West Chicago from the factory over decades, leading to two government-supervised cleanups in the 1980s and 1990s.

Still, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials recently said that residual contamination may remain buried on up to 41 residential properties, including some certified as clean by the agency.

The former factory site is being used as a temporary holding facility for thorium being cleaned from area waterways.

PLAT members are going door to door with leaflets in the neighborhood nearest the plant in an effort to inform and organize residents, Bentham said.

"Most of them weren't aware of the thorium or what it was," she said. "Some people got a letter (from the EPA) and didn't know what to do about it. Everyone seemed interested in learning more."

Of the roughly 10 families that make up the group thus far, several are Hispanic, member Maria Salazar said.

The neighborhood is about half Latino, according to the 2000 census. Part of the group's goal, Salazar said, is to reach out to Spanish speakers.

"There are a lot of Hispanic people that don't know. They need to tell them in Spanish. It's not right," she said. But, "we will speak up when it comes to the health of our children."

Another grassroots resident organization that formed in the 1990s, the Thorium Action Group, is credited with bringing attention to the contamination issue and, through protest, forcing officials to do something about it.

PLAT meeting

What: First meeting of Protection of Lives Against Thorium group

When: 7 p.m. tonight

Where: 447 Church St., West Chicago

Information: Call (630) 687-2458 or E-mail

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