City of Chicago Denies Exemption from Air Monitoring for Facility that Stores Neurotoxic Manganese

The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has denied a request to avoid air pollution monitoring requirements at a facility that stores neurotoxic manganese on the city’s Southeast Side. Community and environmental organizations urged the City to increase monitoring at the facility operated by Watco Transloading (formerly Kinder Morgan), citing concerns over the company’s lack of compliance with the city rules and the serious health risks manganese poses to residents. 

Since 2014, Watco and its predecessor Kinder Morgan have tried to get around the City’s monitoring requirements at their Chicago facility through the variance process. In May, CDPH rejected Kinder Morgan’s earlier request for a variance from monitoring requirements, citing EPA recommendations for additional fenceline monitoring. The City’s final determination referenced two September inspections that raised significant concerns with the facility's emissions.    

While the request was under consideration, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health disclosed preliminary findings from a study showing elevated traces of manganese in toenail samples from Southeast Side children compared to samples taken from children living in other areas of the city. As the study continues, researchers expect to learn more about the connection between these high exposures and the impact on pulmonary function and academic performance.  

Following is a joint statement from the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke (SSCBP), the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF), Moms Clean Air Force (MCAF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Northwestern Pritzker Law's Environmental Advocacy Clinic, Chicago Legal Clinic:

“Watco asked the City to look the other way while they continue to release manganese dust, a dangerous neurotoxin, into our community putting the health of residents, especially children, at risk. While the City Department of Public Health did the right thing by refusing to bend the rules for Watco, the City needs to get this dangerous neurotoxin completely out of our community.

“Although the monitors will keep Watco accountable and provide information about the amount of manganese in our community, the City must protect the health of residents now. Families have been breathing in this neurotoxin for years, likely at much higher levels. Curbing manganese exposure on the SE Side must be part of a larger solution that includes addressing the cumulative impacts of toxic pollution on Southeast Side communities.

“Today’s decision from CDPH reaffirms the community cannot rely on polluting industries to safeguard the health of residents. It is time for the City stop its patchwork approach and listen to the residents impacted by dirty industry who are demanding a cleaner, healthier and more economically vibrant Southeast Side.”  


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.