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City, Attorney General Moves To Force Southeast Side Petcoke Piles Indoors

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 19, 2013 9:30PM

Petcoke piles on the banks of the Calumet River.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced Thursday a deal with Beemsterboer Slag Co. to move the company’s mounds of petroleum coke and met coke along the Calumet River on the Southeast side that have had nearby residents shuttering windows and fearing for months about their long-term health as dust from the mounds have carried on winds and landed in their neighborhoods.

Emanuel, in the statement touting the deal, talked tough about having Beemsterboer clean up its act and that the regulations “will ensure that the facilities operate in a way that prevents the spread of pet coke into neighboring communities.”

“We will not rest until Chicago’s children and families are protected from the potential hazards of these materials,” Emanuel added.

Let’s take a look at the new regulations. Beemsterboer will be required to hold petcoke and other materials such as coal, lime and pig iron in large storage facilities while smaller deliveries of petcoke will require the installation of wind barriers to reduce airborne dust from the deliveries. Beemsterboer will have to move its piles of petcoke and met coke from its 22 acre facility along the Calumet River to these storage facilities, cease accepting additional waste materials and document where they transferred the petcoke and met coke, including start and completion dates for the work and what emissions controls they used during the removal.

The order was filed in Cook County Circuit Court and next in the mayor’s and Attorney General’s sights is KCBX Terminals, a company owned by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. City Council Health and Environment Committee chairman Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said, “We cannot place profits before our residents’ quality of life, and we cannot allow companies to continue operations that may place the health of Chicago’s children and families at risk.” Yet Emanuel is allowing companies storing petcoke as long as two years to comply with the new regulations.

According to the Sun-Times Emanuel ruled out an outright ban on petcoke in favor of the tighter measures. That didn’t sit well with Peggy Salazar of the Southeast Environmental Task Force who argued for an outright ban and asked, “Why would you allow something that is negative to the health of the community to be in existence for two years?”

“That stuff arrives in rail cars [and] barges that are uncovered…And the wind still blows. Enclosures [are] not the total answer. We don’t think this stuff belongs in a community’s backyard….You can maybe put it somewhere else enclosed. But it shouldn’t be in peoples’ backyards.”

Emanuel, at the news conference announcing the new regulations, said trying to implement an outright ban on petcoke would lead to a costly legal battle that may not succeed.

Chicagoist's coverage of the petroleum coke mounds on the Southeast side.