When Ray Hott bought a strip of land in DeKalb, Illinois, he did not know that it had been contaminated by toxic chemicals from a gas plant a century before.
"At least 100 sites in Illinois are similarly contaminated with varying amounts of hazardous chemicals including coal tar, a byproduct of the coal-burning process that contains carcinogens such as benzene, as well as other toxic substances, like cyanide.
But the cleanup and identification of these sites has dragged on for years, or even decades, in a process that is expensive, often contentious and nowhere near complete. Utility companies are responsible for the cleanup but can follow their own timetables in what is essentially a voluntary process.
Some Illinois sites have sat inactive for years or never been completely investigated to determine the extent of contamination, the Tribune found in conjunction with journalism graduate students from the University of Illinois."
Stephanie Lulay, Marissa Monson, and Ellen Gabler report for the Chicago Tribune July 4, 2010.