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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Chicago Area Choking in Toxic Dust

CHICAGO (CN) - Clouds of windblown toxic dust from enormous piles of petroleum waste pollute a South Side neighborhood, Chicago residents claim in a class action.

Lead plaintiff Lilly Martin sued KCBX Terminals Co., George J. Beemsterboer Corp., KM Railways, Transload Realty, DTE Chicago Fuels Terminal, Calumet Transload Railroad, and Koch Carbon, in Cook County Chancery Court.

"This complaint arises out of the presence of vast quantities of coal and petroleum coke, or 'petcoke,' a highly dangerous, hazardous contaminant, in the Chicago southeast side residential South Deering and East Side neighborhoods," the lawsuit states. "These quantities of coal and petcoke are maintained in sprawling, uncovered piles up to five stories high at three nearly adjacent storage and transfer terminals along the Calumet River currently or formerly owned, operated, controlled, and/or maintained by defendants."

Petcoke, a byproduct of petroleum refining, contains sulfur, nickel and vanadium, a carcinogen.

South Deering, on Chicago's far South Side, is an economically depressed, formerly industrial area, the largest of Chicago 77 official community areas. Ninety-five percent of its population is black or Latino, according to 2010 Census data.

"Every day, winds hit defendants' uncovered piles of coal and petcoke, and black clouds of coal and petcoke dust - called 'fugitive dust' - are blown into the air and subsequently fall on homes, businesses, yards, streets, alleys, parkways, and other types of property neighboring defendants' terminals," the complaint states.

According to the Material Safety Data Sheet for petcoke, anyone who inhales petcoke dust should immediately leave the vicinity to breathe fresh air.

"However, the plaintiffs and class members cannot escape the petcoke dust and access fresh air in their neighborhood, as the dust is constantly blowing in the air all throughout the neighborhood," the complaint states.

"Despite repeated complaints by affected residents, defendants have refused and continue to refuse to take adequate measures to stop or mitigate the migration of hazardous coal and petcoke dust to the surrounding neighborhoods. The contamination of those neighborhoods is ongoing."

The petcoke is produced by BP at its Whiting, Ind. refinery and shipped to defendants' terminals for storage, according to the complaint. BP is building a new refinery to refine heavier oil from the tar sands oil fields of Alberta, Canada.

The upgrade will drastically increase BP's production of petcoke -by 700,000 tons, the plaintiffs claim - and increase the petcoke stored in their neighborhood.

While other facilities, such as the Port of Los Angeles, enclose piles of petcoke due to the hazardous dust it produces, "defendants simply spray the piles of coal and petcoke with wet suppression equipment (i.e. sprinklers spraying the piles with water and possibly a surfactant solution)," the complaint states.

Plaintiffs seek an injunction and punitive damages for nuisance, trespass and negligence.

They are represented by Thomas Zimmerman, Jr.

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