- Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke
- Chicago Academy of Sciences | Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
- Uncommon Commons
- Southeast Environmental Taskforce
- Benjamin Sugar
- Justin Manley
- David Bild
- A number of other people whose names we will finally get at the Midwest Barnraising!
Southeast Chicago, as an old steel mill industrial area, has a history of industrial pollution and brownfields. There has been a lot of press about a new and recent environmental issue - massive piles of 'petcoke' or petroleum coke waste left over after refining from Canadian tar sands that are being stored in open-air piles in Southeast Chicago. Oil that is refined across the state border in Whiting, Indiana and then is being sent to southeast Chicago for storage to evade some environmental regulations. Concerns from petcoke dust blowing over the neighborhood and causing health issues have been raised many times by residents, activists and media outlets such as NPR and Vice News and as the businesses involved are owned by the Koch brothers and the increasing debate on environmental effects of tar sands practices.
Currently, Petcoke a by-product of the oil refining process is being stored along the banks of the calumet river in South Chicago. The petcoke originates from a nearby BP refinery that’s nestled on Lake Michigan in Whiting IN – just across the border of Illinois.
Because petcoke emits larger quantities of CO2s The EPA, as of late, has been declining permits to burn petcoke in the U.S. However, Petcoke is a commodity and its sold to other countries like India Mexico and china where its used for things like fueling cement manufacturing. The company storing the petcoke, KCBX, is owned by the Koch brothers. As of 2013 Oxbow Corporation, owned by William I. Koch, a major dealer in petcoke and is selling 11 million tons annually.
Indiana state laws regarding storing petcoke are more stringent than Illinois. So, it comes over the border via rail, barge and trucks and is typically stored along the river until it can be sold.
The BP refinery recently inderwent a huge upgrade in their operation. The biggest coker in the world. It cost nearly 2 billion dollars. 6,000 tons of petcoke a day will be coming from BP. A toxic avalanche!
Petcoke resembles coal but more dusty or powdery but, because its oily nature, it sticks to your skin. Occasionally in the neighborhood, if its windy and families happen to be cooking out, they might notice petcoke peppered in the Hawaiian fruit salad.
Two volunteers at community organization coordinated the first informational meeting at Wolfe Park – two blocks away from the piles. Getting complaint forms or incident logs in Spanish from the EPA was a painful process for the organizers. People brought signs – they signed up for more information and to get involved. Angry residents complaints spanned from petcoke caked on homes, to asthmatic children forced to play inside on windy days, petcoke inside the home and so on and so on.
The bi monthly community meeting grew and after that initial meeting, larger town hall meetings with the alderman, IEPA the AG office were held. The local media was showing up to all the events. Vice Magazine has also done a short piece on the blight in the neighborhood.
Petroleum Coke Cleanup
The Southeast Environmental Task Force and community activists have hosted multiple workshops to construct aerial maps of petroleum waste piles using balloon mapping techniques. Petroleum coke, or 'petcoke' is a waste product of the petroleum industry being stored at multiple sites in Southeast Chicago. It resembles a dark dust or ash. It is illegal to burn petcoke in the United States for energy due to environmental hazards, so petcoke is stored and then shipped internationally. Petcoke piles in the area are uncovered and present health hazards/concerns due largely to petcoke easily being blown as a dust around residential areas surrounding the piles.
Southeast Environmental Task Force and community activists hosted two workshops this spring to teach community members how to conduct balloon mappings to document the petcoke piles, and discuss ideas to estimate the volume of the piles as well as low-cost air monitoring techniques. An overview of the first workshop can be found here. Using methods described here, the group visited several sites around Southeastern Chicago, and constructed maps of the piles.