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Residents leaving polluted house
Couple expects company to pay for their hotel stay
By Rupa Shenoy | Daily Herald Staff

Sandy and Rich Riess pack Friday as they prepare to move to a hotel. Their West Chicago home is contaminated with thorium.


Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/15/2007 12:28 AM

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More than three weeks after learning their home was an environmental hazard, Sandy and Rich Riess are getting out.

The harried West Chicago residents packed Friday for a move to a nearby hotel, after learning that the company responsible for their home's contamination had agreed to pay for their relocation.

"We just can't wait any longer," Sandy Riess said.

For decades, the Kerr-McGee Co. distributed the radioactive material thorium throughout West Chicago, before people knew that it causes cancer after long-term exposure.

Tronox, the successor to Kerr-McGee, paid for two cleanups in the 1980s and 1990s.

On Aug. 22, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials informed the company that tests showed the Riess home was contaminated with Kerr-McGee thorium, causing more than 300 times the safe level of radiation.

Until Friday, Tronox lawyers hadn't responded to requests from Mark Sargis, the Riesses' attorney, to move the couple out.

Tronox representatives had said only that they needed to examine the home and create a cleanup plan -- a process that could take six weeks, Sargis said.

But on Friday, Tronox lawyers agreed "in principle" to the move.

"They agreed to the concept, which they hadn't before," Sargis said.

Tronox spokeswoman Debbie Schramm couldn't reach company attorneys in order to confirm that by the end of the day Friday.

As yet, nothing is in writing. The couple will pay for the hotel and hope that the company reimburses them, Sargis said.

Until the tentative agreement was made, financial constraints had the Riesses thinking about living in a trailer on their own driveway. That could have earned them a city code violation and a fine between $75 and $750.

But by today, they should be living in a two-bedroom hotel suite with their two big dogs.

"The two of us and the two of them are going to have to bite the bullet and deal," Sandy Riess said. "It's going to be rough."