10th Ward Residents Vote: Ban Pet Coke Now

By Sarah Kramer and Lizz Giordano

Residents of Chicago’s 10th Ward voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to ban the storage of petroleum coke, a byproduct of the oil refining process.

Nearly 86 percent of  voters favored the ban in Chicago’s Southeast Side 10th Ward. The referendum vote is non-binding, but it’s another loss for Koch Industries-owned KCBX Terminals Company, which has been engaged in a battle with City Hall over the handling of the dusty black piles.

The vote comes on the heels of KCBX’s February 19 announcement that it will work to discontinue pet coke storage at the terminals along the Calumet River. The North Terminal, at the 3200-block of East 100th Street, will close within five months.

KCBX will continue to operate the South Terminal, at 10730 South Burley Ave., but not as a storage facility. “By the June 2016 [city] deadline, product piles will be removed, with the product being transferred in a covered conveyer system directly to transport vessels and barges,” according to a Feb. 19 company statement.

“These announcements represent a big win for the neighbors of the piles; their vigilance and outcry forced action,” said Southeast Environmental Task Force Executive Director Peggy Salazar in a joint statement released Wednesday with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But make no mistake, this fight is not over.”

Previously, the public health department had declared it would require KCBX to cover the piles by June 2016. The company requested a variance that would allow construction to be completed in late 2017. The city denied the company’s request February 16. Last week, BP announced that it will stop shipping pet coke across the state line from its refinery in Whiting, Indiana, to the Chicago facilities.  Pet coke will continue to be transported through the area.

“We expect we’ll have to make some adjustments to the services we provide our customers but we hope operating this way will allow us to remain in business,” said KCBX President Dave Severson in the Feb. 19 statement.  Severson affirmed the company’s commitment to staying in Chicago while respecting city bylaws. A representative from the company declined to comment on the health risks the city and residents have raised related to pet coke.

Text by Sarah Kramer; video by Lizz Giordano

Pet coke piles and covered conveyer belts at the KCBX South Terminal. (Sarah Kramer/Medill)