For years, companies have stored uncovered piles of coal and petroleum coke on the Southeast Side near the now long gone U.S. Steel Southworks site, which was home to a number of steel mills and blast furnaces. Those mills and jobs are gone, but petcoke is still stored nearby. Most of the petcoke generated now comes from a BP refinery in Whiting which is just across the boarder in northwest Indiana.
Recently, there have been more complaints from local residents about chronic dust problems. They blame the piles of petcoke for leaving thick black grime on surrounding homes and have raised health and environmental concerns. A class-action lawsuit has even been filed alleging air pollution violations against KCBX and Beemsterboer, the companies storing the petcoke.
Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel has suggested that the city may require the refinery waste to be enclosed for the first time. The proposed regulation are modeled after California rules that require petcoke, coal and other raw materials to be enclosed or covered.
In order to help reduce current dust levels, KCBX has installed 42 new computer-controlled water cannons at the larger site that can douse the piles with up to 1,800 gallons of water a minute. The company is also testing a system that automatically turns on the cannons based on weather conditions and adjusts to wind directions.
In the wake of the lawsuit, growing community concerns, and involvement from the EPA, it would seem likely that some new regulations are going to be on the horizon.
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