Health Officials “Surprised” by Petcoke Company’s New Facility Plans

A coal and petroleum coke handler’s plan to enclose its operations within a massive facility on Chicago’s southeast side is being met with “surprise” and “concern” from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Petroleum coke, or petcoke, is a by-product of the oil refining process. It is similar in appearance to coal and used to generate electricity. KCBX Terminals recently announced plans for a $120 million indoor petcoke facility that would stretch 1,000 feet long, 200 feet wide and 100 feet tall. Construction is expected begin in Fall 2015.

NBC 5 Investigates obtained a letter sent December 17th from the CDPH commissioner to the president of KCBX Terminals, in which the commissioner expressed “surprise and concern that KCBX is providing details and a construction timeline for its required enclosure via press release” without having applied for permits and without sharing formal plans for the facility with the city.

In return, KCBX sent a letter to the commissioner in which it wrote KCBX has met regularly with members of Chicago’s Law Department and CDPH regarding its planned permitting of the enclosure project.

The city gave the company a two-year timeline for building an enclosure earlier this year. A city spokesperson confirmed KCBX submitted a variance request on the enclosure deadline Wednesday night. The city said the request was submitted after the commissioner’s letter was sent.

City regulations now require at least 30 days of public comment before making a decision on the variance request.

Neighbors who live near the southeast side storage facility have complained about alleged petcoke dust caking on to their homes. And they said they’re also concerned about their health.

“We want a health analysis done on our community because we don’t know what kind of harm it’s already caused us,” said Olga Bautista, a community activist who is also running for city alderman.

KCBX has said their analyses of soil and surface samples confirm that KCBX does not adversely impact the surrounding area. But in a direct contradiction to the company’s analysis, the CDPH commissioner wrote “a CDPH analysis of electron microscopy found petcoke dust on neighborhood sidewalks”.

The company spent millions of dollars on high tech water cannons to suppress dust in 2013 and this week announced plans to build its massive enclosure facility. The company said more than 150 construction-related jobs would be created over two years.

KCBX said it is in compliance with city rules and said the air quality is clean.

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