It’s not easy to take on a wealthy, multi-national corporation and win. Especially for residents of Chicago’s struggling southeast side.
But that’s exactly what’s happening on the banks of the Calumet River, where the steel plants that used to give residents of a mostly Hispanic neighborhood access to a middle-class lifestyle were replaced, nearly two years ago, with black dust called petroleum coke (“petcoke”) piled five or six stories tall.
The piles of petcoke — a byproduct of the oil refining process — belong to KCBX Terminals, owned by the conservative billionaire Koch Brothers. The piles have been roiling area residents ever since the black dust of mostly carbon and sulfur began blowing into the backyards, playgrounds and neighborhood parks. It blackens skies and leaves behind a sticky residue, raising concerns about aggravated asthma and other health issues.
This Aug. 30, 2013 cell phone image provided by Anthony Martinez, shows a dust cloud rising from piles of petroleum coke during a storm near residences on the southeast side of Chicago. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Anthony Martinez)
Another lingering question is where BP will send its petcoke now that it’s no longer shipping it to Chicago.
“A final decision has not yet been made on where this material will be stored in the future,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told HuffPost in a statement.
That answer is not a comfort to activists, like Josh Mogerman, who fear the dangerous material could be heading just across the border to Indiana.
“Just shifting this blight to another community or down the river is good for folks on the southeast side, but not a win,” Mogerman, spokesman for the NRDC, said. “They produce a lot of this stuff, and it has to go somewhere.”