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A Toxic Tour: Cook County's Biggest Chemical Releasers

By JoshMogerman in News on Jan 8, 2012 5:00PM

Pollution. We hear about it a lot in Chicago but rarely get a glimpse at who does the dirty and what they are emitting. However, every couple of years, the EPA puts out a report that sheds some light on the ugliness in our air and water.

And they name names.

We spent yesterday digging through the new version of that pollution data, the Toxic Release Inventory—yup, it was a fun day—to see what popped up in Cook County. The report details the disposal or release of 600 toxic chemicals and stands as a fascinating (well, as much as a government database can be) and unsettling look at what is going into the environment around us. The headline is certainly that toxic releases are up this year in Illinois, but we think there is more to see.

When looking at reports for each of the 120 dangerous chemicals released in our area, it is impossible not to notice many of the same facilities popping up at the top of list after list—often, by orders of magnitude—so we thought we would send you intrepid readers on a toxic tour of town. Most of the this stuff is, unsurprisingly, found in industrial areas on the South Side and south suburbs, but not exclusively. (Some might surprise you.)

Just to be clear, the data only tells us which facilities are releasing, disposing of or recycling these dangerous substances. Sometimes it is on-site, sometimes elsewhere. That doesn’t mean that there is anything illegal going on, though many of the facilities certainly have a checkered past. These are not even necessarily the worst polluters in the county, they just handle a heady stew of toxic stuff:

(Click through the gallery to see who's on the list and what they're emitting.)