Durbin Pushes For Protection Against Harmful Pollution In Southeast Chicago

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today pressed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and S.H. Bell to address petroleum coke (pet coke) and manganese pollution concerns in Southeast Chicago.  Pet coke is a byproduct of refining crude oil into fuels such as gasoline and diesel.  While the Clean Air Act clearly directs the EPA to protect human health, there are no current standards in place to guard against particulates specifically emitted from pet coke.  The effect of manganese dust is better known, and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there is clear evidence that human exposure to high levels of the dust can lead to serious neurological effects. 

“While we’ve made progress in limiting and containing petroleum coke and manganese on Chicago’s southeast side, these dangerous pollutants are still lingering, leaving me extremely concerned about the possible negative health effects they could be having on the community.  I will continue to press our public health agencies and the companies in charge of these sites to protect Illinoisans from harmful and dangerous health and environmental impacts caused by this pollution,” said Durbin.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Durbin urged the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate pet coke dust.  He also asked that the Agency continue to monitor the air quality surrounding the pet coke sites after the EPA granted permission to the storage facility to remove their air quality monitors. 

In a letter to CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, Durbin requested that the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conduct an assessment of the public health risks posed by storage and handling of manganese in Southeast Chicago.  Air pollution monitors installed in the area for pet coke study have also detected potentially dangerous levels of manganese, which can lead to serious neurological effects. 

Finally, Durbin questioned S.H. Bell on the steps it is taking to mitigate any potential health and safety issues caused by the processing, transportation, or storage of manganese, and how these efforts can be strengthened to better protect the public.  Approximately 20,000 Illinoisans live within one mile of the S.H. Bell facility.

In 2014, Southeast Chicago became an environmental battle zone as 10th Ward community activists protested against pet coke dust storms that were blowing across their neighborhoods from eight-story piles of the waste product stored on the banks of the Calumet River.  As a result of the combined efforts of federal, state, and city lawmakers, the pet coke piles have been reduced in size; an overhead sprinkler system was installed to help reduce the wind-blown dust particles; and EPA air-quality monitors were placed throughout the neighborhood.  The piles have since been removed, but there are still no protections from residual dust, or for other communities living near pet coke piles nationwide.

In 2015, Durbin joined Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) to introduce legislation – the Petroleum Coke Transparency and Public Health Act – to address the concerns of pet coke on a national level and open the door for federal environmental safety regulations on the tar sands byproduct.

Full text of the letter to the EPA is available here.  Full text of the letter to CDC is available here.  And full text of the letter to S.H. Bell is available here.