The dry cleaning chemicals at Lake and Lathrop are a problem, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says, and River Forest Cleaners is responsible for dealing with the side effects for the cleaners’ neighbors.

Years of chemical storage at the site have left the soil contaminated, and dangerous fumes are now making their way up into neighboring businesses at troublesome levels, according to EPA testing done in February 2010.

So the EPA has asked River Forest Cleaners to help out two of the neighboring businesses with the highest contamination — Annie’s Beef and My Gym.

The dry cleaner is voluntarily installing systems to help feed the fumes from below the buildings’ foundations to outside the building, where they can disperse more safely.

While levels of chemical vapor that have made their way into the two businesses are not immediately problematic, the fumes do exceed the EPA’s long-term standards for exposure, and could cause side effects to someone dealing with them every day.

The dry cleaners’ former owner, Edward Ditchfield, agreed to install the vapor mitigation systems for his neighbors at the EPA’s request.

However, the EPA’s on-scene coordinator for River Forest Cleaners, Brad Benning, said the EPA would likely have tried to make Ditchfield pay for the systems if he hadn’t agreed to.

The system at Annie’s started installation last Tuesday, Benning said, and a system for My Gym was still being evaluated.

Benning said the vapor systems would likely be the end of the U.S. EPA’s involvement at the site, but there was still environmental work to be done. With a major development at Lake and Lathrop being discussed by the village, the site’s contamination will remain in play.

“However that project works out, they’ll eventually have to remediate the source material,” he said.

The village board is expected to reveal some details for a project on the block before its next meeting on Dec. 13.

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Ben Meyerson

Ben was Wednesday Journal's crime, parks, and River Forest reporter, until he kept bugging us enough to promote him. Now he's managing two of Wednesday Journal's sister papers in the city, Chicago Journal...