Southeast Siders and environmentalists took to Chicago's streets Tuesday for a "Day of the Dead march" against industrial pollution in their community.
Organizers from the Southeast Environmental Task Force and the Southeast Side Coalition To Ban Petcoke held the march to remember "those that have died or have become ill due to pollution from local industries" and call "for environmental justice and the protection of community members' health," the groups said in a news release.
The march began at Agri-Fine's Southeast Side manufacturing plant.
"The smell produced by Agri-Fine is simply unbearable," Southeast Side resident Cynthia Escobedo was quoted as saying in the release. "When I walk outside, I can barely breathe, and it covers the whole neighborhood. We are sick of the profits of the 1 percent trumping the health of the 99 percent. We want them out!"
Marchers also protested at KCBX Terminals Company's (KCBX) now-closed petcoke facility near 100th Street and Commercial Avenue. Petcoke is an oil refining byproduct.
In a win for petcoke opponents, KCBX, which is controlled by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, ceased operations at its north terminal in June as a result of new city petcoke regulations.
KCBX operates another petcoke facility on the Southeast Side at 108th Street and Burley Avenue. The company is transitioning that petcoke terminal from a storage to transfer facility.
Despite those actions, the environmental groups maintain that residents on Chicago's Southeast Side "continue to experience petcoke in their homes and community."
"Mayor Emanuel made a commitment to clean up this community, and our message today is that going halfway isn't going far enough," Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) said.
KCBX issued this statement in response to Tuesday's demonstration by Southeast Siders and environmentalists:
KCBX has handled petroleum coke and other bulk materials in Chicago for more than 20 years. Throughout this history, we have always sought to operate our facility with the utmost respect for our neighbors and the environment, and that remains the case today.
Nearly two years of air monitoring data show that air quality near the KCBX terminals is consistent with federal clean air standards. Independent laboratories also have conducted tests on more than 100 soil and surface samples from the neighborhoods near the terminals and found no evidence of coal or petcoke dust. In addition, the EPA determined that blackened home air furnace filters, which were alleged to contain dust from our operations, do not contain petcoke. Finally, the EPA's own ambient air monitor located a couple blocks from our Burley Avenue terminal at Washington High School has never exceeded national air standards for dust that could be associated with coal or petcoke.
We have invested more than $30 million in improvements, including a new dust suppression system at our Burley Avenue terminal. We recently closed our other terminal and we are committed to continuing to operate our remaining site on Burley Avenue in full compliance with Chicago's new rules, which call for the enclosure or removal of all product piles by June of next year.
Petroleum coke is an important product that has many uses, including energy generation and the production of cement, steel, aluminum and other specialty products. It is not considered toxic, but even so, KCBX has adopted practices to manage the potential for dust.