Ramping up the pressure to stop black dust from blowing through the Southeast Side, state and local officials filed a lawsuit today seeking to remove giant mounds of refinery waste and coal from a site on the Calumet River.
The action by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is the latest in a series of legal moves against the owners of three sites that store uncovered petroleum coke and coal south of the Chicago Skyway bridge.
Madigan and Emanuel are asking the Cook County Circuit Court to shut down the Beemsterboer Slag Co. site at 2900 E. 106th Street until its owners obtain new permits from state regulators. They also want the piles gone until Beemsterboer submits a plan to tamp down the dust.
During an inspection last month, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency discovered that Beemsterboer was only spraying water from a truck to prevent dust from swirling off its uncovered piles. The company had stopped using water cannons and other methods, according to the lawsuit.
"Beemsterboer's failure to follow the environmental laws is a serious threat to the public health," Madigan said. "The company must take action immediately to stop the air pollution from its illegal operations."
Earlier this week, Emanuel vowed to enact a new ordinance that would require the storage terminals to either enclose piles of petroleum coke and coal or surround them with high walls on three sides, leaving them open to the river. Two aldermen have introduced a separate proposal that would ban the storage of petroleum coke altogether.
"We cannot allow this company to openly violate laws and continue operations that may place the health of Chicago's children and families at risk," Emanuel said.
Since the Tribune and other media drew attention to the dust problems last month, Madigan and the EPA have filed complaints against Beembsterboer and KCBX Terminals Co., which owns two other storage terminals nearby.
Emanuel stepped in after the U.S. EPA last week ordered monitors erected around the storage terminals to measure lung-damaging particulate matter.
Residents of the East Side and South Deering neighborhoods say the dust problems have worsened since the storage terminals started acquiring more petroleum coke, also known as petcoke.
KCBX, a company controlled by industrialists Charles and David Koch, said it recently installed 42 new computer-controlled water cannons at one of its sites that can douse the piles with up to 1,800 gallons of water a minute. It also is testing a system that automatically turns on the cannons based on weather conditions and adjusts to changes in wind direction.
Beemsterboer has not responded to Tribune requests for comment.
Beemsterboer's state operating permit allows it to store coal but does not authorize the handing of petcoke or metallurgical coke, a type of high-energy coal used in steel production, records show.
The new lawsuit, which accuses the company of multiple permit violations, seeks fines of $50,000 per violation and $10,000 for every day the company remains out of compliance.