City Exiles More of Chicago's Petcoke Piles

Southeast Environmental Task Force and NRDC React to KCBX Closure; Another Big Decision Still to Come

CHICAGO (June 24, 2015) – The City of Chicago recently informed  a company storing massive mounds of oil refining waste on Chicago’s Southeast Side that no more of the material can ever move through one of its sites. The decision, quietly communicated to the Koch Brothers-affiliated KCBX Terminals Company last month, stands as another big win for neighbors who have been pushing for removal of controversial petroleum coke (or petcoke) facilities along the Calumet River in Chicago. 

KCBX received a letter that assigned its north facility (near 100th and Commercial) a “throughput” rate and maximum-daily-amount-held-on-site limit of zero. The City’s action essentially means no more petcoke can ever move through or be placed on the north site after this month. It also ensures that KCBX cannot restart coke and coal operations at the north site if its business plans change, or sell or lease the site to new owners in the pet coke business. The City committed to setting such limits last December, following up on advocates’ insistence that the City track and limit the amount of coke and coal handled by existing facilities within its bounds.

To date, the City has not made a decision on the amount of material it will allow the company to hold or move through the larger KCBX South facility at 108th and Burley. In February, the company announced that it would move petcoke piles off the south site and convert it into a direct transfer facility, where the material would be shifted between trucks, trains, barges and freighters without land storage. Southeast Side neighbors have been waiting for a throughput decision on KCBX’s South Site, but timing on the City’s decision has not been announced.

Petcoke and coal are sources of dust particles that become airborne when the materials are moved or otherwise disturbed. This “particulate matter” can significantly harm human health when inhaled. Exposure to particulates is associated with respiratory and cardiac problems, including asthma, decreased lung function, and premature death. 

Following is a joint statement from Southeast Environmental Task Force executive director Peggy Salazar and Natural Resources Defense Council Midwest director Henry Henderson, who also served as the first Commissioner of the Environment for the City of Chicago:

“When the fight over petcoke on the Southeast Side started, we were battling three massive facilities. The City’s letter ensures we are down to a single site left blighting the area. The neighbors don’t believe that petcoke has a place so close to their homes, parks and schools. We agree, and hope the City will take similar action at KCBX’s South facility to relieve the Southeast Side of this unhealthy polluting burden.

“Even when the piles are gone from KCBX’s South facility, the burden will not be lifted from its neighbors—just shifted. The constant boat, barge, train and truck traffic from an industrial petcoke transfer site will likely bring health and quality of life impacts that the neighbors have made clear that they will not accept. They are calling for a zero throughput rate at this site, and we think it makes sense here, too.

“When it comes to the South Site, we hope the City will keep putting people over petcoke.”


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