The U.S. House has approved money to push forward on the decades-long pollution cleanup at the site of the former Kerr-McGee factory in West Chicago, but the project could stall if the federal government doesn't follow through.
Rep. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, said the legislation, approved this week, included $20 million to reimburse work at cleanup projects nationwide. Roskam's office says the West Chicago site is the only one where the progress of cleanup would be hampered by a lack of federal money.
The Senate has to approve the legislation as well. House action, however, could help pressure the Senate and President Barack Obama to agree to pay.
"We will continue to press the Department of Energy to meet their obligations to these communities that rely on the federal government's partnership for critical environmental cleanup," Roskam said in a statement.
The factory, which closed in 1973, once played a part in the development of the atomic bomb, producing radioactive thorium. The substance has been removed from a contaminated residential area, a park and water in the area, but it remains at the factory site.
West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda said cleanup of contaminated residential sites is nearly complete and cleanup at the factory site is about 90 percent done. The total cleanup thus far has cost $1.2 billion. Pineda said about $27 million is still needed for the factory site, which he hopes will be turned into a park someday.
"Just to be able to say we're a clean community finally is what our goal is," Pineda said.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 111,000 cubic yards of soil have been cleaned up so far from residential properties, and part of the factory site remains. Officials say the remaining thorium isn't a health hazard anymore.
Still, it must be removed before the area can be developed.
Roskam and Rep. Randy Hultgren of Winfield sent Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz a letter this week urging the Obama administration to release money for the reimbursements, which it's not done since the 2008 fiscal year.
"The radioactive byproducts produced at these sites in service of the federal government's programs pose a serious risk to public health and the federal government has an obligation to participate in cleanup activities, including through reimbursement," the letter reads.
"In the future, Congressional rebuke will not take the form of a polite reminder in legislative language," it says. "If the Department will not prioritize protecting the health and safety of our constituents, Congress will look to secure the funding from the Secretary's office allocation or wherever else is necessary to ensure this critical work to clean up radioactive contamination from our communities is completed successfully."
A message left with the Department of Energy was not returned.