Good Neighbor Campaigns / Right-to-Know

Petcoke piles gone, but another dangerous pollutant discovered in the air

An aerial view Feb. 17, 2017, shows industry along the Calumet River in Chicago, including the S.H. Bell storage facility, in foreground at lower left, along the east side of the river. (Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune)

CHICAGO — “Dusty mounds of petroleum coke are gone from Chicago, but federal and city officials discovered a potentially more dangerous type of pollution while investigating the black piles that once towered above the East Side neighborhood.

Air monitors posted around two storage terminals on the Calumet River during 2014 and 2015 detected alarming levels of manganese, a heavy metal used in steelmaking that can permanently damage the nervous system and trigger learning difficulties, memory loss and anxiety.

Investigators have an educated guess about which company is responsible for the pollution. Yet their efforts to pinpoint the culprit and crack down on its emissions have been thwarted for nearly three years.

The chief suspect, S.H. Bell Co., a Pittsburgh-based firm that stockpiles manganese and other materials near the former petcoke sites, has repeatedly ignored city regulations adopted in 2014 that require bulk storage operators to install air pollution monitors around the perimeter of their properties. The company also spurned a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency request for monitoring equipment, prompting the EPA to sue S.H. Bell in federal court last year.”

— Michael Hawthorne, Chicago Tribune

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