City, state seek to shut down petcoke pile
Source: Chicago Tribune, November 23, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
In an online photo gallery of neighborhood picnics and sunrises over Lake Michigan, an image of black dust blotting out the sky galvanized residents of Chicago’s Southeast Side to demand action against companies storing enormous mounds of petroleum coke along the Calumet River.
Spread through social media, the picture taken in late August near 109th Street and Buffalo Avenue helped revive long-standing concerns in the East Side and South Deering neighborhoods about the legacy of pollution from now-shuttered steel mills, blast furnaces and coke ovens that once dominated the area.
Elected officials and regulators eventually took notice of the anger and frustration. In the past month, the owners of three riverfront storage terminals have faced a steady stream of lawsuits, administrative complaints and proposed legal restrictions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state EPA, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the local alderman and members of Congress.
On Friday, Madigan and Emanuel filed a new lawsuit seeking to shut down the Beemsterboer Slag Co. site at 2900 E. 106th St. until its owners obtain new permits from state regulators. The attorney general and mayor also want Beemsterboer’s uncovered mountains of petcoke and coal removed until the company submits a plan to tamp down the dust.
During an inspection last month, the Illinois EPA discovered that Beemsterboer was only spraying water from a truck to prevent dust from swirling off its uncovered piles. The company had stopped using water cannons and other methods, according to the lawsuit.
“Beemsterboer’s failure to follow the environmental laws is a serious threat to the public health,” Madigan said. “The company must take action immediately to stop the air pollution from its illegal operations.”
Company officials have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
A state operating permit allows Beemsterboer to store coal but does not authorize the handling of petcoke or metallurgical coke, a type of high-energy coal used in steel production, records show.
The new lawsuit, which accuses the company of multiple permit violations, seeks fines of $50,000 per violation and $10,000 for every day the company remains out of compliance.
Residents say dust problems have worsened since Beemsterboer and other storage terminals started acquiring more petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refining. Until recently, the piles rising above the Calumet had been a largely unnoticed consequence of a shift at Midwest refineries to thicker, dirtier oil from the tar sands region of Alberta.
“We’ve been complaining about the dust for years, but this time somebody finally listened to us,” said Peggy Salazar, an East Side resident and activist with the Southeast Environmental Task Force. “I still don’t know how to explain it.”
Since the Tribune and other media drew attention to the dust problems last month, Madigan and the EPA have filed other complaints against Beemsterboer and KCBX Terminals Co., which owns storage terminals on 100th Street and on Burley Avenue between 108th and 111th streets. KCBX is not named in the suit filed Friday.
Earlier this week, Emanuel vowed to enact a new ordinance that would require the storage terminals to either enclose piles of petcoke and coal or fence them in with high walls on three sides, leaving them open to the river. Ald. John Pope, 10th, and Edward Burke, 14th, introduced a separate proposal that would ban the storage of petcoke altogether.
City officials stepped in after the U.S. EPA last week ordered monitors erected around the storage terminals to measure lung-damaging particulate matter.
“We cannot allow this company to openly violate laws and continue operations that may place the health of Chicago’s children and families at risk,” Emanuel said.
KCBX, a company controlled by industrialists Charles and David Koch, said it recently installed 42 new computer-controlled water cannons at the Burley Avenue site that can douse the piles with up to 1,800 gallons of water a minute. It also is testing a system that automatically turns on the cannons based on weather conditions and adjusts to changes in wind direction.
Much of the petcoke stored in Chicago comes from a nearby BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., where a federal legal settlement requires the oil giant to store any waste kept on site behind 40-foot walls. An enclosed conveyor and loading system is equipped with windscreens and water sprayers to keep dust down.
All of the petcoke from Whiting eventually is sent just over the state border to the uncovered piles managed by KCBX.
By the end of the year, BP is expected to complete an overhaul of the Whiting refinery that will make it the world’s second-largest source of petcoke — increasing its output to 2.2 million tons from 700,000 tons a year.
“We need to make sure our elected officials protect us,” Salazar said. “We’re fed up with being a dumping ground for everybody else’s waste.”