Victims’ Voices: Southside Neighborhoods of Chicago

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For years citizens of Chicago have been fighting to protect themselves from the potentially deadly effects of the black dust released by KCBX Terminals Co., a Koch subsidiary. The company operates two sites in the southeast side of the city that hold massive amounts of oil refining waste and coal—petcoke—which escapes into the air to blacken the city skies, invade homes and pollute the Calumet River. This has raised serious concerns regarding the environmental and health impacts of these particles on the communities of Chicago residing close to the sites.

chicago-petcoke

Petcoke is stored on barges on the Calumet River near the Chicago Skyway Bridge.

“It is thoroughly unacceptable for these piles to sit just a few hundred yards from people’s houses,” said Southeast Environmental Task Force executive director Peggy Salazar. “People are complaining about finding dust from these sites inside their homes. Black dust is coating their houses and probably their lungs. This has to stop.” Petcoke contains carcinogens and toxic heavy metals which become airborne when moved or exposed to wind. This can cause various respiratory and cardiac problems when inhaled.

In response to this Koch-caused petcoke problem, Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel had ordered the Koch brothers to “either clear up or shut down” their sites. Facing growing political pressure from environmentalist groups, protestors, community members and the mayor since 2014, KCBX Terminals has finally announced that it will shut down one of its storage sites along the Calumet River, and convert the other site to allow for rapid transfers of petroleum coke between railcars, cargo ships and barges. However, these massive piles of toxic waste will not be completely contained until June 2016. KCBX has also planned to build a $120 million petcoke storage shed along the Calumet River; however, its request to delay construction has been denied by the city of Chicago.

Until the shed is built, protests against the crudification of the Chicago neighborhood will continue and all the residents will be forced to inhale the toxic byproduct of Koch activities and negligence that is called petcoke.

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Sources:
Hawthorne, M. (2015, February 19). Koch firm vows to eliminate petcoke piles. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-petcoke-kcbx-met-20150219-story.html

Hawthorne, M. (2014, December 16). Koch-owned firm unveils plans to cover dusty petcoke piles in Chicago. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/ct-petcoke-kcbx-met-20141216-story.html

Mogerman, J. (2014, April 28). Koch Brothers in Court Over Chicago’s Petcoke Piles? NRDC and Southeast Environmental Task Force Signal Toxic Waste Suit on Horizon. Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved from http://www.nrdc.org/media/2014/140428.asp

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