Chicago Petcoke: The piles are getting big - and the piles are getting bigger
Posted June 12, 2014 in Curbing Pollution
The other shoe dropped last week as the public got a peek at data coming from new air pollution monitors near Chicago’s now-infamous petcoke piles. Here, as reported by the Chicago Tribune:
For months, a company that stores giant mounds of petroleum coke on Chicago's Southeast Side has maintained it had nothing to do with gritty clouds of dust blowing into surrounding neighborhoods or black residue staining the sides of nearby houses.
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that an ongoing investigation has traced both problems back to KCBX Terminals, which stores petroleum coke and coal at a pair of sites along the Calumet River.The EPA accused KCBX of violating the federal Clean Air Act after pollution monitors posted around the two storage terminals recorded high levels of lung-damaging particulate matter on April 12 and May 8.
In the EPA's letter to KCBX, the agency [also] said its dust wipe samples revealed a high ratio of the two metals [vanadium and nickel] — a telltale sign of petcoke[.]
EPA’s violation notice is posted here.
We agree with the neighbors that these piles have no place in Chicago, amidst densely populated communities near people’s homes, parks and schools. On Friday, NRDC and the Southeast Environmental Task Force sent KCBX a notice of intent to sue for violating a ban on the open dumping of waste. This notice supplements the one both organizations sent in late April, which concerns KCBX’s contributions to conditions that may endanger health and the environment around their sites.
The piles should be gone… But until they are moved, there are some additional commonsense tools that need to be put in place quickly, including:
- Public access to real time data from the air monitors and weather stations properly installed at and around the KCBX sites (so the community has more current information on conditions that affect them).
- More air monitors (right now they are positioned at the corners of the KCBX properties, which are huge, so additional monitoring should be required).
- Monitoring and reporting of the concentrations of smaller dust particles (PM 2.5 and smaller), which are more easily carried by wind and air currents, and even more damaging to public health because they lodge deep in the lungs.
For months, KCBX officials have emphasized money that they have thrown into the south site and suggested that the expanded network of pole-mounted sprinklers they installed last fall would keep their dusty waste from going airborne into the community. EPA’s violation notice, which is based on air monitoring from this April and May, suggests that it hasn’t worked out that way…
Even as sprinklers have failed to fix the problem, dust pollution from the site is potentially being aggravated by the piles growing noticeably taller at KCBX’s south facility.This could be a bigger issue as the company attempts to consolidate its facilities, potentially cramming even more petcoke close to the neighborhood just east of KCBX’s
New City rules for handling and storing petcoke that took effect this week limit pile heights to 30 feet. Last time I was there, the piles looked about twice that tall in places rivaling the 65’ tall sprinklers in height. Perhaps it is time for City inspectors to pay the facility a visit.
UPDATE 6/23/2014: NRDC and SETF sent a letter to the EPA formally calling for commonsense expansions to their monitoring and public access to informational tools. Read the full letter.
"The view from 110th Street, Chicago" image shot in mid-May.
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