Dear Ms. True:
It has come to our attention that many people consider the Southeast Environmental Task Force responsible for the article on the cluster sites in the June 18 issue of the Reader ["Your Mayor Could Clean Up This Mess"]. Since we are the leading environmental organization on Chicago's southeast side, this is not surprising--but it is erroneous. SETF actually refused an interview to your reporter, telling her that it was not time for media attention in the process that is being pursued by the groups engaged in planning for the cluster sites. The city representative stated at our meeting in May that they would expect to have an answer by our next meeting on whether the mayor will endorse a national priorities listing (NPL) for the cluster sites. It seems obvious that this period of time between meetings is not prime time for clobbering the mayor on this issue.
For the past eight years we have been at the table with U.S. EPA, the city of Chicago, and other agencies and organizations to work collaboratively toward a solution for this site. For the first four years it appeared that the area would probably not qualify for Superfund cleanup, and various possibilities for dealing with it were explored. In 2000 U.S. EPA, IEPA, and the city of Chicago conducted a joint investigation which included a large area of the site which had never been tested. This investigation revealed that the site does indeed qualify for an NPL listing, and our working group has been proceeding in that direction ever since.
If the task force had been involved in your article, we might have been able to help avoid some of the factual errors that impair the credibility of the article. It is highly unlikely that the gas mask and the rusted barrels reported on the Alburn Incinerator site could possibly trace back to that facility, since it received Superfund work years ago, including capping the site. The sludge-drying bed does not discharge treated sewage into the Calumet River, as the article reported. The Acme coke plant in the vicinity has been closed for a year and has a trench system to prevent discharging any contaminants into the adjacent wetlands. We could go on, but the point has been made: this reporter does not have an adequate understanding of the territory.
Our relationship with the media has always been that reporters have respected our requests. We believe that the public interest has been well served by this kind of relationship, and we do hope that it will be observed in the future.
Southeast Environmental Task Force
Kari Lydersen replies:
I apologize for suggesting that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District empties treated sewage into the Calumet River. What it empties into the river each day is up to 300 million gallons of water used to process sewage, from which "95 or 96 percent of organic pollutants are removed," according to district spokesperson Peggy Bradley. The sludge from the drying bed is disposed of in other ways. I can't prove the gas mask and the rusted barrels on the site came from the incinerator and shouldn't have said so. And I'm not aware that the Acme plant is creating environmental problems, and I'm sorry if the story gave that impression.