EPA targets petcoke dust on Southeast Side

EPA targets petcoke dust on Southeast Side

Source: Chicago Tribune, June 4, 2014
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

For months, a company that stores giant mounds of petroleum coke on Chicago’s Southeast Side has maintained it had nothing to do with gritty clouds of dust blowing into surrounding neighborhoods or black residue staining the sides of nearby houses.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that an ongoing investigation has traced both problems back to KCBX Terminals, which stores petroleum coke and coal at a pair of sites along the Calumet River.

The EPA accused KCBX of violating the federal Clean Air Act after pollution monitors posted around the two storage terminals recorded high levels of lung-damaging particulate matter on April 12 and May 8.

EPA investigators also used dust wipes to sample the black film coating about a dozen locations in the East Side neighborhood. In a letter to KCBX, the EPA said it found the chemical fingerprints of petroleum coke in five of the samples, with the highest levels found on the exteriors of homes closest to uncovered piles of the refinery byproduct.

To community leaders on the Southeast Side, the EPA’s enforcement action confirms their increasingly vocal complaints about petroleum coke, also known as petcoke. KCBX is drawing more scrutiny from regulators and politicians as it steps up shipments of petcoke from Midwest refineries shifting to thicker, dirtier oil from the tar sands region of Alberta.

“We knew the dust was coming from their sites,” said Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. “What they’ve been saying just isn’t true.”

KCBX said it is reviewing the EPA complaint. “We will continue to work with the EPA to ensure our operations remain compliant,” Jake Reint, a company spokesman, wrote in an email.

In letters to the community and appearances at public forums, KCBX has vowed to be a good neighbor. The company has said it spent $30 million upgrading its storage terminal on Burley Avenue between 108th and 111th streets, including $10 million on giant sprinklers that can be adjusted based on wind speed and direction to tamp down dust.

KCBX, which is controlled by industrialists Charles and David Koch, also hired an environmental consultant to test soil samples from properties near the Burley Avenue storage terminal and a smaller facility on 100th Street. “No unusual levels of dust particles associated with petcoke or coal were present in the test area,” Mike Estadt, the KCBX site manager, wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to residents.

The company later provided the EPA with information about vanadium and nickel concentrations in petcoke and in typical soil found in the neighborhood. In the EPA’s letter to KCBX, the agency said its dust wipe samples revealed a high ratio of the two metals — a telltale sign of petcoke,

Under an earlier order from the EPA, the company installed six air pollution monitors around its sites and began operating the equipment in February.

Monitoring data posted online shows two violations of the federal standard for particulate matter. Average levels were 155 micrograms per cubic meter of air on April 12 and 156 micrograms per cubic meter on May 8 — higher than the legal average of 150 micrograms per cubic meter.

The federal violation notice is the latest response to complaints about dust from petcoke storage terminals operated by KCBX and Beemsterboer Slag Co., which owns a site at 106th Street and the Calumet River.

New rules imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel require the three sites to be enclosed within two years, and a zoning ordinance approved by aldermen outlaws new storage terminals within the city.

KCBX and Beemsterboer also face lawsuits from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan accusing the companies of violating various environmental laws.

Emanuel has said that Chicago boasts the nation’s toughest regulations on petcoke storage operations. But at recent public meetings, many Southeast Side residents have said the city’s actions fall short of the mayor’s tough talk on the issue.

“The piles are still here,” Salazar said Tuesday. “We feel like all of our complaints are for naught.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *