Chicago's far Southeast Side residents are applauding progress in their campaign against petcoke storage in their community, but say they aren't done fighting for a complete city ban on the oil refining byproduct.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday morning, members of the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke said they secured a major victory now that, under a city order, a company storing petcoke in their community can no longer have uncovered outdoor piles of the material.
Petroleum coke, or petcoke, is a thick, powdery byproduct of oil refining that can pollute the air and water. The material, which is commonly used as a fuel source in power plants, has been stored in large piles along the banks of the Calumet River on Chicago's Southeast Side.
At issue is a petcoke terminal, located at 108th Street and Burley Avenue. The terminal is operated by KCBX Terminals Company (KCBX), which is controlled by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Last year, KCBX announced plans to transition the petcoke terminal from a storage plant to a transfer facility, with the conversion expected to be completed by June 9, 2016.
After that date, uncovered outdoor piles of petcoke are prohibited under a 2015 city order, which stems from Chicago petcoke regulations enacted in 2014.
The regulations were prompted by environmental and health concerns raised by Southeast Side residents who reported petcoke dust blowing through their community.
A KCBX spokesman said all product piles have been eliminated at the terminal, which has been converted into a direct transfer facility with a covered conveyer system.
Nonetheless, Olga Bautista with the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke said the group will continue to fight for an outright ban on petcoke in Chicago.
"What we need is a complete ban of petcoke, because we're not interested in this stuff just moving to another place," she said outside of John L. Marsh Elementary School, 9810 S. Exchange Ave. "We want to set the precedent so high here in Chicago that another mom, another dad, is not gonna have to fight this fight all over again. We intend to follow the petcoke piles and reach out to those communities and let them know how we were able to stop this toxic avalanche of pollutants here in our community."
Also at today's press conference was John Heroff. He is director of policy for Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), who represents the area.
"She does not want petcoke stored or transported through the 10th Ward or Chicago," Heroff said of the alderman's petcoke position.
Coalition members also reacted to the $1.45 million settlement several petcoke companies, including KCBX, recently agreed to pay to resolve a class action lawsuit. The other companies that agreed to the settlement include Koch Carbon, LLC, DTE Chicago Fuels Terminal LLC, Calumet Transload Railroad, LLC, George J. Beemsterboer, Inc., and Beemsterboer Slag and Ballast Corporation.
The class action lawsuit centered on whether the companies "failed to take reasonable and adequate measures to prevent petroleum coke and coal dust from contaminating" Chicago communities.
The settlement will be divided among eligible residents who file a claim, which must be submitted by September 24.
If every class member filed a claim, each household would get a payment of about $60, according to those who spoke at today's press conference.
Coalition members called the amount an "insult" and "slap in the face" to the community.
Bautista said the group has attorneys looking at the fine print of the settlement.
"We're concerned that if later we find out that there are health problems [for community members] and we don't opt out that we might not be able to sue on those conditions because of the way that the settlement is set up," Bautista explained.
Attorneys will be on hand to discuss the settlement with residents at a community meeting tonight being hosted by the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at Marsh Elementary School.
KCBX provided Progress Illinois with the company's statement issued last month about the class action settlement. The following comes from KCBX's Jake Reint:
We are pleased to resolve this matter. We have the utmost respect for our neighbors and we are committed to earning their trust and confidence in our operations.
KCBX has operated bulk material terminals in Chicago for more than 25 years. In 2012, we acquired our Burley Avenue terminal and invested $30 million to improve operations, which included a $10 million dust suppression system, which has proven effective.
More than two years of air monitoring data show that air quality near the KCBX terminal meets federal clean air standards. Independent laboratories also have conducted tests on more than 100 soil and surface samples from the neighborhoods near the terminal and found no evidence of coal or petcoke dust. In addition, the EPA determined that blackened home air furnace filters from the neighborhood do not contain coal or petcoke. Finally, the EPA's own ambient air monitor located a couple blocks from our Burley Avenue terminal at Washington High School never exceeded national air standards for dust that could be associated with coal or petcoke.
In the past a portion of the product was transferred to ground then to vessels and barges, and a portion was transferred directly. By June of this year, all piles of coal and petroleum coke will be eliminated, as the city's rules require, and the Burley Avenue terminal will transition to a direct transfer facility where all product will transfer directly to barges and vessels via a covered conveyor system. KCBX's other Chicago terminal has been closed.