Residents in several lower-income Chicago neighborhoods say a dirty oil byproduct from a nearby BP refinery is creating environmental and health hazards -- and no one is doing enough to stop it.
“Us little people, we’re not millionaires, we’re working stiffs,” East Side resident Frank Caporale, a Chicago garbage truck driver, told the Sun-Times. “We are being overcome by a super company that we don’t have a say in, whether we want it here or not. It’s like it came and we’re stuck with it.”
Dust from petroleum coke or "petrocoke" is produced at the nearby BP refinery in Whiting, Ind. but the oil byproduct is stored in Chicago shipping yards on the city's South Side. Caporale and others say the byproduct blows into neighborhoods like East Side and South Deering to leave cars, windows, streets and buildings covered in a greasy black dust.
Piles of the oil byproduct sit outside and uncovered in the shipping yards. As WGN notes, the storage sites have fewer restrictions than oil refineries.
“I can’t understand why a company is dumping it there and not covering it up,” said resident Jean Tourville, who the Sun-Times notes is a stage-four breast cancer patient. “This is an economically low area. If you don’t have any money, they don’t care what they do to you. We have no influence.”
Resident Lilly Martin, who can see the coke piles from her backyard deck, tells the Tribune: "You can't have a picnic outside because you are going to get a mouthful of black dust. It's so bad we have to power-wash the house every week to wash it off."
Complaints have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office to investigate, though BP officials insisted in a statement to the Tribune the Whiting refinery is "complying with its permit regarding coke handling at the refinery."
Ultimately, BP said it's up to the companies that operate off-site storage terminals to comply with environmental laws. The terminal on the Southeast Side is owned by KCBX Terminals, a company the Tribune notes is controlled by wealthy conservative industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.
According to WGN, the high sulfur, high carbon waste product is only going to increase as the nearby refinery has plans to triple the amount of petrocoke it stores in Chicago by year's end.
Detroit residents faced a similar hazard with "pet coke" earlier this year as clouds of the waste blew across the Detroit River. Mayor Dave Bing ultimately ordered the piles to be cleared, citing health concerns and community complaints.