East Side residents: Refinery byproduct coats everything
By Casey Toner and Matt Mikus Sun-Times Media October 18, 2013 11:52PM
Updated: October 19, 2013 11:04PM
Residents living in Chicago’s East Side neighborhood say an oil byproduct stored in heaping outdoor piles at a nearby shipping yard is blowing throughout their streets, coating everything from cars to houses with a greasy black dust.
BP officials said about 700,000 tons of the industrial fuel, known as petroleum coke, is produced annually at the BP refinery in Whiting and stored at sites owned by KCBX Terminals. One of the sites KCBX owns is a truck, train and barge shipping facility off the east side of the Calumet River between 108th and 111th streets in Illinois.
The site may be a key to the oil giant’s local operations in the future, as production of the chemical soon is expected to ramp up to about 2.2 million tons a year, according to BP officials.
While the increased output might be good for business, residents are finding little to celebrate, claiming the wind is carrying particles of the petro coke out of the shipping yard and into their communities.
The petro coke, which is uncovered, can be seen from blocks away from the KCBX site and has caught the eye of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who have launched their own investigations.
Jean Tourville, 77, lives within walking distance of the KCBX site in the 10900 block of Mackinaw Avenue. She said the dust regularly sweeps through her street, coating her stoop, sidewalks and awning. It also comes in through her chimney, turning the white tables in her living room black.
“I can’t understand why a company is dumping it there and not covering it up,” said Tourville, a stage-four breast cancer patient. “This is an economically low area. If you don’t have any money, they don’t care what they do to you. We have no influence.”
Frank Caporale, 53, of the East Side neighborhood, said that all it takes is a heavy wind to “blow the crap all over the place.”
“Us little people, we’re not millionaires, we’re working stiffs,” said Caporale, a Chicago garbage truck driver. “We are being overcome by a super company that we don’t have a say in, whether we want it here or not. It’s like it came, and we’re stuck with it.”
In response, community residents are holding a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Wolf Park fieldhouse at 109th Street and Buffalo Avenue.
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Andrew Mason said the IEPA, which requires that KCBX control the chemical, is reviewing KCBX’s “fugitive dust control” permits to determine if they are appropriate. The agency also has provided information to the Illinois attorney general’s office requested as part of its investigation into the petro coke, he said.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said Friday that KCBX works as BP’s contractor and is “responsible under the law and for complying with environmental and other regulatory requirements associated with pet coke storage.”
“BP has communicated its expectation to KCBX that they will comply with those requirements,” Dean said.
As part of a federal permit and consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, BP has built storage facilities for the Whiting refinery with 40-foot walls and enclosed loading systems with wind partitions and water spray systems to minimize dust blow-off. The Whiting facility also has an overflow storage barn that can hold five to six days of pet coke in case shipping is disrupted.
KCBX spokesman Paul Baltzer released a statement Friday saying that the company is in the final stages of building more than $10 million in upgrades, including improvements to the company’s “dust suppression capabilities.”
“KCBX puts a priority on regulatory compliance and managing operations in a manner that protects the health and safety of employees, the community, and the environment,” Baltzer said.