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Petcoke Pushback On The Southeast Side

By JoshMogerman in News on Oct 26, 2013 7:00PM

The Southeast Side has always toiled under the cloud of the heavy industry in its midst. But, now literal clouds of dust are sparking a renewed push for change.

Thursday night, an overflow crush of residents gathered in the tiny Wolfe Park fieldhouse to discuss concerns over oil refining waste that has begun piling up along the Calumet River. Ald. John Pope (10th) and representatives of the Illinois EPA heard harrowing stories of nuisance and health impacts from neighbors of facilities collecting petcoke from the nearby BP refinery in Whiting, Ind. at the meeting convened by the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

As the refinery's expansion to process dirtier Canadian tar sands oil comes to fruition, clouds of airborne dust and a stream of ashy oil residue has increased. Residents complain it coats everything from their cars to the inside of their homes—and worry it will get into their bodies, since particulate matter is known to cause significant pulmonary and respiratory problems. Al Jazeera America broadcast particularly concerning footage this week as attention to the situation has grown.

This is not the first time that residents in the area have found themselves pushing back against being Chicagoland’s dumping ground. In the 80’s and 90’s Southeast Siders waged a series of successful campaigns in City Hall to end decades of unsafe solid waste storage in the area.

Thursday night’s gathering may signal a new salvo in their effort to keep the dumpers at bay. If so, it will be a heck of a fight as they square off with Big Oil and the Koch Brothers who own the two biggest petcoke facilities on the Calumet and are big players in the growing trade in exports of the dirty, high carbon waste sometimes used as a coal substitute.