Former Carnotite Reduction Company

Site History

From approximately 1916 to 1921, Carnotite Reduction Company (Carnotite) operated an elemental radium separation and refining facility in Chicago in the vicinity of 2600 S. Inglehart Place, a street that no longer exists. Carnotite operated near what is now 434 E. 26th Street, Chicago, Illinois. The majority of this property later became part of the land occupied by the former Michael Reese Hospital (Site). The City of Chicago purchased the 37-acre former Michael Reese property in June 2009 and is the current owner.

In 1979, the State of Illinois Department of Health, Division of Radiological Health (a predecessor to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA)), in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), conducted a radiological surface survey of the northern portion of the Michael Reese property near 26th Street, and identified areas of elevated radioactivity. State personnel concluded that the contamination did not pose an immediate health hazard but should be considered prior to any future construction.


Radium, Thorium, and Uranium Contamination Investigations

Several subsequent investigations have been conducted since the City acquired ownership in 2009, including surficial gamma surveys, down-hole gamma logging, and analyses of soil samples, in order to estimate the extent of radiological contamination believed to have resulted from Carnotite’s refining operations. These investigations have documented radium, thorium, and uranium contaminated soil beneath and in the vicinity of 26th Street from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Ellis Avenue within the northwest portion of the Site. Contamination has been defined to the south, west, and east and to the City’s northern property line. Most impacted material is limited to the top 5 feet below ground surface (bgs) but extends to approximately 12 feet bgs within one area in the northwest portion of the Site. A brief timeline of key investigations is provided below:

  • August 2009 - IEMA conducted a gamma surface survey, observed readings of gamma activity, and recommended to the City of Chicago further investigation prior to invasive construction work. 
  • December 2009 - EPA conducted a surface gamma survey at the Site and confirmed presence of elevated surficial gamma activity. 
  • April/May 2012- Subsurface investigations confirmed the presence of elevated levels of radium and uranium in subsurface soil. 
  • November 2013 - Subsurface investigations of the remainder of the Michael Reese Site substantiated that radiological contamination is not present outside of the documented contamination at the northwest end.
  • December 2013 - IDPH issued a Letter Health Consultation regarding the Site and estimated that public dose rates for commuters traversing accessible portions of the Site would be 21.6 mrem/yr, which is less than the 100 mrem/yr of exposure greater than normal background permitted for the general public by EPA and the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 
  • July 2018 –2FM conducted additional subsurface soil and groundwater sampling to confirm the maximum depth of contamination and gather data needed to prepare construction bid documents for the removal of the radiological contaminated material.


Radioactive Material Storage License

In October 2013, the IEMA Division of Nuclear Safety became the lead regulatory agency for the Site. On July 10, 2015, IEMA issued the Department of Fleet and Facility Management (2FM) Radioactive Materials License IL-02467-01 for the possession and storage of radioactive material associated with Carnotite and located on City property and in the public right-of-way. This license is renewed annually and the current version is available here

As part of the license conditions, 2FM conducts ongoing environmental monitoring to document radiological concentrations at the site. Sewer water and sediment, air, and groundwater samples within and along the perimeter of the licensed area have been or are being collected.

2FM  worked with IEMA to develop the Decommissioning Plan dated December 28, 2018 for the removal of the radiological contaminated material. 2FM is in the process of addressing IEMA’s final comments as well as preparing construction bid documents for the decommissioning work.


Underground Work in the Former Carnotite Reduction Company Area

Based on the EPA and IEMA’s recommendation, and in conformance with the City’s Radiation Monitoring Ordinance (Section 11-4-1100), radiation monitoring, among other health and safety measures, is required prior to intruding into or disturbing soils in the Carnotite area as radium- and/or uranium-contaminated materials may be present. If radium- or uranium-contaminated materials are uncovered without proper environmental and safety controls, workers and the public may be exposed to elevated radiation levels.

An applicant seeking a permit for underground work in the Carnotite Permit Hold Area (see link to map below) will be required to ensure proper monitoring takes place any time excavation or ground breaking occurs. Please note that permits which involve work in the Carnotite Permit Hold Area will have a hold in the City Permit System.

If 2FM determines that radiation monitoring is required, the applicant must then complete a form agreeing to conduct proper radiation monitoring. The applicant must schedule an appointment with 2FM to review available files before the hold can be released and a permit can be issued. This form must be completed and submitted to 2FM prior to each instance of scheduled soil excavation or ground exposure. Failure to complete this form may result in the delay of permits. Please call 312.744.7204 to schedule an appointment.

The Carnotite Utility Emergency and Maintenance Plan outlines soil management, radiological soil monitoring, and minimum health and safety procedures for utility and other excavation work conducted within the license and permit hold areas.

Please view the Carnotite Permit Hold Area Map to see if the proposed work might be located in the Carnotite Permit Hold Area. Note: this map is for informational purposes only. Holds are based on addresses and not parcel or property boundaries. Monitoring requirements will depend on the location and type of work.

For underground work in the Right-of-Way please complete the form 2FM.RADIUM.PUBLIC.05 and bring the original to the 2FM Office, 30 N. LaSalle Street, Suite 300, Chicago, Illinois 60602.

For underground work on properties outside of the Right-of-Way please complete the form 2FM.RADIUM.PRIVATE.05 and bring the original to the 2FM Office, 30 N. LaSalle Street, Suite 300, Chicago, Illinois 60602.


Questions? Call 312.744.7204

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