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Petcoke Protesters Blocked Access To South Side Terminal

By aaroncynic in News on Nov 17, 2015 6:51PM

Photo by Chicago Rising
Activists temporarily blocked access to the KCBX terminal on Chicago’s Southeast Side Monday morning calling for the shutdown of the site, which they say “menaces the health and wellbeing of residents.” The blockade, which ended with five people being arrested, is the latest attempt to clear petroleum coke, an oil refining byproduct, out of the neighborhood.

“In the two years our community has been fighting the open storage of petcoke, I have had a baby,” Kate Koval, a longtime resident of the area, said in a statement. “I live in constant fear of my seven month old son have respiratory problems. I am disgusted by corporations putting their profits over the health of our community.”

Though pressure from the community has managed to close two storage sites, large piles of petcoke still remain in the open air both at the terminal and on transport vehicles. Organizers of the demonstration point to a study by Johns Hopkins from 2006 that shows that increases in particulate matter in the air results in increases in hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory problems. They say open-air storage of petcoke means even small gusts of wind blow the material around, which ends up in resident’s homes and lungs. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other elected officials have pledged to fight against the Koch-Brothers owned terminal on behalf of residents, but protesters say they’ve been dragging their feet.

Photo by Chicago Rising

“The only way is to completely ban petcoke from the city limits and the state has to do the same,” said Olga Bautista, a member of the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, which helped organize the demonstration. Bautista said however that fighting in court, however, could be tough. “The Koch brothers have a bottomless pit of money and could drag out for a long time... we’re afraid that this trend that we’re seeing from polluters in the neighborhood is that it never gets to a point where we can get stricter laws because they keep settling cases. We need that to go all the way.”

Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza, who represents residents of the 10th Ward where the KCBX terminal is located, joined the demonstrators in support.

“I believe in what these people are doing—petcoke doesn’t belong in our ward,” Garza told Chicagoist.

She said that though she hasn’t spoken to Emanuel about the issue, she plans on it. “We’ve been there long before petcoke... he was adamant during election time saying he doesn’t want this here.”

In a statement to the Tribune, Jake Reint, a spokesperson for KCBX, said that the air quality around the facility “is consistent with federal clean air standards” and that independent labs “found no evidence of coal or petcoke dust.” He also added:

“Petroleum coke is an important product that has many uses, including energy generation and the production of cement, steel, aluminum and other specialty products.”

But Bautista and others say they want more green, clean-energy jobs in the neighborhood. “We don’t want to leave this area, we’re not going to relinquish this neighborhood,” she said. “We’re hard working, union workers - we want opportunities to be able to work in something that won’t harm us.”

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