Before the electric light bulb ended the Gaslight Era, one of the biggest advances in illuminating Chicago and other cities was the development of a lantern wick that could withstand intense heat while burning brighter than ordinary lamps. The wicks, known as Welsbach gas mantles, were made of gauze soaked in a radioactive element called thorium. To meet demand, several long-forgotten lantern factories north of the Chicago River ground tons of thorium-laced ore during the early 1900s, then gave away the sandy leftovers to shore up soggy areas around Streeterville, at the time a heavily industrialized neighborhood. Nobody kept track of where the radioactive sand from Lindsay Light Co. ended up. But today, developers and street crews confront the company’s toxic legacy every time they dig foundations for hotels and high-rise condominiums that have made Streeterville a magnet for upscale living and tourism.
Meg Finnegan thought she might never be able to afford to have a baby. Finnegan, who is self-employed and has a pre-existing medical condition, was having trouble finding health insurance at all, let alone a policy that would cover pregnancy and childbirth. So she was thrilled to discover that the plan she signed up for last fall under the Affordable Care Act includes maternity coverage. "If I didn’t have insurance, I wouldn’t have a baby. All those doctor’s appointments and tests, and possibly a high-risk delivery — how would you pay for it?" she said. A guarantee of maternity coverage — all new insurance policies must provide it — is just one of a basket of provisions in the federal health law that specifically benefit women. Women’s health advocates also expect women to benefit more from some provisions in the law that apply to people of either sex.
Bernard McCullough grew up above an Englewood church and then worked as a fry cook while honing his comedy act at night. Decades later, after hitting it big in nightclubs, television and movies, Bernie Mac wanted to give back. He founded a small charity in 2005 aimed at helping fellow sufferers of sarcoidosis, a disease that disproportionately affects blacks in the U.S. The organization continued after his death three years later, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and holding fundraisers — including a blues show as recently as February. But public records and interviews show that the charity is falling short of key benchmarks for such organizations, as well as the generous intentions of its founder. For instance, records for the six years ending in 2012 show that 13 percent of the Bernie Mac Foundation’s spending has gone to charitable programs, far below the 65 percent minimum that experts recommend.
In a stern rebuke of a noted surgeon, the state of Washington has issued disciplinary charges against Dr. David Heimbach, who told lawmakers misleading stories about fatally burned babies while testifying in favor of flame retardants. Medical licensing authorities allege that Heimbach, whose activities were exposed in a 2012 Tribune investigation, fabricated testimony, failed to disclose his ties to the chemical industry and falsely presented himself as an unbiased burn expert when he was in fact collecting $240,000 from flame retardant manufacturers.
Shanna King was intrigued by the idea of a relaxing candlelight yoga class at a small, low-budget studio in Chicago. Looking for more information, King emailed customer service. Owner Joe Young responded but didn’t address her questions. So King sent a couple more notes. Suddenly, the exchange turned hostile. ”(Expletive) off please,” Young wrote to King, who provided the Tribune with copies of the emails. “I have real work to do.”
Health care navigator Barb Silnes has been warning consumers that they will pay a tax penalty if they don’t sign up for insurance very soon. Some reply that they’ll swallow the penalty — and maybe get coverage later this year. But in most cases that won’t be possible, Silnes tells them. If consumers miss their chance to enroll this time around, the next chance is mid-November, with a few exceptions. "That’s when I get their attention," said Silnes, who works out of the Jane Addams Resource Corp. in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood.
When Naperville and Batavia bought shares of a new coal-fired power plant, Linda Sommer was one of the few people in the two suburbs who challenged the idea that it would guarantee cheap, reliable electricity for years to come. Seven years later, the number of residents, business leaders and elected officials questioning the deal is growing. Instead of the promised savings, both suburbs are moving this month to boost electricity rates to cover higher-than-expected costs to operate the Prairie State Energy Campus and help pay off municipal bonds that bankrolled its construction. In Batavia, the financial situation is so dire that officials are considering a sales tax increase in addition to charging residents and businesses more for electricity.
Charged in 1996 with driving drunk and killing a woman, Chicago businessman Kyung Ho Song posted a low bond, liquidated assets worth more than $1 million and slipped out of the country to his native South Korea. For years he lived openly there in a glass-and-concrete suburban high-rise. But on Wednesday FBI agents escorted Song on a long-delayed return flight to O’Hare International Airport. He now awaits trial on the 18-year-old charges of reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol. This time, the court denied bond. Song’s long-dormant case was reactivated after the Tribune investigated it as part of the newspaper’s 2011 “Fugitives From Justice” series.
For a decade, Bob Chikos remained loyal to one toothpaste: Rembrandt’s Gentle White. Without it, he was often plagued by painful canker sores that made it difficult to swallow for weeks on end. Then the manufacturer discontinued the product, blindsiding Chikos and other longtime users. The move has inflated the price of the toothpaste from $6.99 to about $50 on eBay for a 3-ounce tube and provoked ongoing backlash on Rembrandt’s Facebook page.”I can’t believe you took this off the market!” Chikos, of Cary, posted in November, echoing other disgruntled consumers. “This was a miracle product. … I would gladly pay DOUBLE what they were being sold for. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE bring it back, or at least give the recipe and rights away to a company that will.” Consumer goods are regularly pulled from shelves for a variety of reasons, including low sales, safety concerns and the natural end of a product’s life cycle. But emotions run high when a company kills a product that consumers have come to rely on.
As the deadline to acquire new health insurance under the Affordable Care Act draws closer, Chicago-area residents are nailing down plans for 2014. Finding out what the new insurance exchanges have to offer has come with elation for some and confusion, frustration and disappointment for others. Here are five area residents’ stories: