CHICAGO | While the City Council and the Illinois General Assembly both have pending measures on how to regulate the storage of petroleum coke within the city limits, activists said Tuesday they’re still pushing the idea the substance should be banned altogether.
Olga Bautista, a member of the Southeast Side Committee To Ban Petcoke, said her group plans a protest march at 10:30 a.m. April 26, and also plans to keep pressure on aldermen and state legislators to ensure the concerns of 10th Ward residents are taken into account when new laws are passed.
Petcoke, a byproduct of petroleum refining, currently is kept stored outdoors in piles, often along the Calumet River. Winds can cause it to blow about the surrounding neighborhoods, and activists say they believe it causes a health hazard to people who breathe it in.
“We really need to start studying how petcoke affects our residents,” she said. “It’s not normal the levels of cancer and asthma that we have here.”
An ordinance now pending in the City Council, along with a bill now before the Illinois House of Representatives, both try to deal with the issue by requiring enclosed storage of the coke piles. Those measures would give companies up to two years to comply.
Bautista said that is unacceptable because it still means two years of a potential health hazard. She said her group wants government officials to prevent petcoke storage in the city altogether, adding that even with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., having visited the area to talk about the issue, there has not been a proper focus.
“We need to get rid of petcoke,” she said. “That is what local residents really want.”
Bautista also said she sees that government officials are willing to consider environmental concerns in other parts of Chicago. She cited the proposed Lakeside Chicago project for the one-time U.S. Steel Southworks plant, which is about one mile from the petcoke mounds.
“There, they’re willing to talk about windmills and parks and a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “But here, they don’t want to discuss it. That’s wrong.”
The group is planning a protest march from 106th Street and State Line Road to the offices of KCBX Terminals Co., 3259 E. 100th St., which is one of the companies storing petcoke within the 10th Ward. In the past, KCBX officials have said they are willing to work with government officials to develop a reasonable solution.
Activists also plan to pass the office of 10th Ward Alderman John Pope, 3522 E. 106th St., to let the alderman know their views. Pope was unavailable Tuesday for comment.