Durbin and Kelly Urge Centers for Disease Control to Study Threat to Public Health Posed by Pet Coke

Following Visit to Communities Near Open-Air Storage Sites, Senator and Congresswoman Also Send Letter to Illinois EPA Weighing In On KCBX Permit Application

[CHICAGO] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL-02) today sent a pair of letters in response to the potential threat posed to Southeast Chicago residents by nearby petroleum coke storage sites.  Petroleum coke, a potentially harmful byproduct of petroleum refining more commonly known as pet coke, is stored in open-air sites near residential blocks in the area.  Durbin visited some of those communities today.  Kelly visited the communities previously.


“Today I had a chance to see and hear firsthand how open-air pet coke storage sites are affecting residents of Chicago's far southeast side,” Durbin said.  “On windy days, families are forced to keep their children inside to keep them away from the toxic dust blowing off these pet coke piles.  Homeowners have cause to be concerned they are being repeatedly exposed to a dangerous dust as high levels of particulate matter are known to aggravate asthma, lead to premature deaths in people with heart or lung disease, and cause nonfatal heart attacks.  I have co-sponsored legislation to ensure we understand the effects of pet coke and today am sending letters calling on other government agencies to closely examine its potential threat to public health.  I hope these actions will help protect the communities I visited today from any harmful effects of pet coke.”


“Residents of the 10th Ward have had to endure pet coke dust storms blowing across their neighborhoods, air pollution that has the potential to cause serious health problems for families.   Regulations must be enacted to ensure that pet coke is properly stored and does not pose a risk to the health of our children or contaminate the environment,” Kelly said.  “I'm currently co-sponsoring legislation calling for testing of the health and environmental effects of pet coke. It is the first step toward regulating pet coke as a hazardous substance. It is vital that pet coke is securely enclosed and no longer a potential danger to the community.”


In their first letter, to Dr. Tom Frieden, Administrator of the Center for Disease Control's Agency or Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Durbin and Kelly ask the agency to study the public health risks posed by the unenclosed storage of petroleum coke in the community.


“I am concerned that many Chicagoans living around facilities that store petroleum coke are regularly being exposed to dust pollution that is extraordinarily dangerous,” they wrote to the CDC.  “I urge ATSDR to thoroughly examine any potential negative public health impacts caused by the storage of petroleum coke in Southeast Chicago and other residential areas.”


The Senator and Congresswoman also sent a letter to Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Bonnett, weighing in on the new air permit application filed by energy company KCBX for its open-air petroleum coke storage site in the neighborhood.  The letter urges IEPA to carefully review the application to ensure KCBX's permit complies with all federal air quality standards and regulations. 


“Air quality monitors in the area surrounding the KCBX facility often register record high levels of particulate matter which is known to aggravate asthma, lead to premature deaths in people with heart or lung disease, and cause nonfatal heart attacks,” the legislators wrote.  “Due to these health risks, homeowners in the neighborhoods surrounding KCBX are concerned that they are being repeatedly exposed to hazardous particles and have filed a class-action lawsuit against KCBX for air pollution violations.  In light of these developments, I urge IEPA to critically review KCBX's new air permit application to ensure that it complies with all Clean Air Act regulations—including the National Ambient Air Quality Standards—and protects the public from any negative health impacts.”

Pet coke particles contain hazardous contaminants, including sulfur, non-volatile organics and heavy metals, which can cause adverse health effects.  It is currently stored at three facilities in Southeast Chicago— KCBX North, KCBX South, and Beemsterboer.  In response to the dust from the storage sites being blown on to neighborhoods, homeowners have filed a lawsuit against the companies. 


In July, Durbin co-sponsored the Petroleum Coke Transparency and Public Health Act, a bill that would require the EPA and the U.S. Departments of Health and Energy to conduct a comprehensive study on petroleum coke.  Last month, the Senator sent a letter to U.S. EPA Administrator McCarthy asking the agency to respond immediately to the issues in Chicago using all available authorities.  Shortly after receiving the letter, the EPA sent a notice to KCBX requiring it to install additional air monitors to measure particulate matter at the site for one year.


Kelly has also co-sponsored legislation calling for testing of the health and environmental effects of pet coke.