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12/19/2013 2:05:00 PM
Deal requires removal of Chicago 'petcoke' piles

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago’s mayor and the Illinois attorney general announced a deal with an Indiana company Thursday that will require it to remove huge black piles of petroleum coke from the southeastern part of the city and accept no other shipments.

Known as “petcoke,” the material is a powdery byproduct of oil refining that’s been accumulating along Midwest shipping channels and sparking health and environmental concerns.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced the deal Thursday.

“Just as we fought to shutter the two remaining coal power plants in the city of Chicago, we are working to force these petroleum coke facilities to either clean up or shut down,” Emanuel said in a statement before the announcement.

Hammond, Ind.-based Beemsterboer Slag Corp. could not be reached for comment Thursday. But the company has already been removing carbon-based products from its Chicago facilities and has said it is cooperating fully with Illinois officials.

Petcoke has been part of the American industrial landscape since the 1930s, when refineries began installing equipment to “cook” residue left over from making gasoline and diesel into a solid fuel that could be burned in power plants and cement kilns.

But the sheer volume of petcoke that appeared suddenly in Detroit and Chicago this year — almost all of it in open-air piles — was unprecedented, and caught residents and public officials off guard.

Residents complained they could not open windows in the summer because of all the black dust.

The city and state efforts announced Thursday included proposed regulations to require large bulk material storage facilities to fully enclose materials such as coal, pig iron and petcoke.

Smaller storage facilities would be required to install wind barriers to stop material from polluting nearby neighborhoods.  

“While we are encouraged that our efforts are producing results, we will not rest until Chicago’s children and families are protected from the potential hazards of these materials,” Emanuel said.

Another company that stores petcoke in the Chicago area, KCBX, said in a statement that it is “committed to doing the right thing and managing our operations in a manner that protects the health and safety of our neighbors.”

KCBX says it has invested $30 million in upgrading a bulk materials terminal it purchased last year. That includes a $10 million dust suppression system, it said.

That company said it is also working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to install air monitors to confirm whether the new system is working.


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