Durbin Commends State Action on Pet Coke

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today welcomed new rules announced by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today that would require total enclosure of petroleum coke piles and other protections associated with the potentially harmful byproduct of petroleum refining, also known as pet coke. 


“Driving by the pet coke piles in Chicago, I understand why the families living nearby are concerned. Exposing them and their children to dangerous air pollution containing heavy metals and cancer-causing materials is the ultimate in corporate irresponsibility. Governor Quinn’s action was the right thing to do.”

In December, after meeting with Southeast Chicago residents impacted by nearby petroleum coke storage sites (video available HERE), Durbin joined U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL) in urging the Centers for Disease Control to study the threat to public health posed by pet coke.  The Illinois members also weighed in with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) 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. 

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 and KCBX South. In response to the dust from the storage sites being blown on to neighborhoods, homeowners have filed a lawsuit against the companies. 


In light of a limited understanding of petroleum coke’s potential health and environmental effects along with a patchwork of state regulations for its storage and transportation, Durbin joined with three of his Senate colleagues in July 2013 to introduce the Petroleum Coke Transparency and Public Health Act.  The bill seeks to fill in those gaps by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct, in coordination with the EPA and the Department of Energy, a comprehensive assessment of the public health and environmental impacts of petroleum coke production and use, a review of the best practices for storing, transporting and managing the material, and an analysis of current and projected domestic production and use.  Details on the legislation can be accessed HERE.


In November 2013, Durbin sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy asking her to use all available authorities to immediately respond to the problem.  Previously, the agency announced that it has begun an investigation into KCBX and Beemsterboer, two companies that had, at the time, stored petroleum coke uncovered at three sites in the Chicago area.  That letter can be accessed HERE.


In the same month, Durbin also sent letters to the 20 companies that have a permit in Illinois to handle petroleum coke.  The letters can be accessed HERE.  In the letters, he requested information on what actions they are taking to mitigate any environmental and public health risk associated with petroleum coke.  Letters were sent to the following companies: Citgo Lemont Refinery; Marathon Robinson Refinery; CII Carbon Rain; Washington Mills; Martin Midstream; Exxonmobil Joliet Refinery; Prince Minerals; Conocophillips Wood River Refinery; Illinois Cement Co.; LaFarge; Buzzi Unicem; St. Marys Cement; Archer Daniels Midland; Bunge Grain Milling Inc; Gas Technology Institute; Mississippi Lime Company; Universal Cement; KCBX North; KCBX South; and Beemsterboer.