CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago's mayor and the Illinois attorney general announced an agreement with an Indiana company Thursday that will require it to remove huge piles of petroleum coke from the city's southeast side and accept no other shipments for the time being.
Known as "petcoke," the material is a black powdery byproduct of oil refining that's been accumulating along Midwest shipping channels, sparking health and environmental concerns.
The deal is part of a pending lawsuit over air quality and lack of proper permitting against Hammond, Ind.-based Beemsterboer Slag Corp., which operates a facility along the Calumet River.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced the details near where residents have complained about the problem. They also touted possible long-term regulations, including proposed city regulations and statewide legislation.
The agreed interim order says Beemsterboer has to remove petcoke and prevents it from accepting, handling or storing any additional materials. It also requires the company to document where it's sent. The lawsuit, filed by Madigan's office and the city of Chicago, alleges the company doesn't have permits to handle the substance, among other things. The company didn't admit fault in Thursday's agreement.
"The goal here is ... number one, stop the air pollution, stop the violation," Madigan said. "The ongoing air pollution violations are not ones that are either legal or safe for people to live near."
Officials with Beemsterboer didn't return messages 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.
City officials hope to put more long-term regulations in place as the Beemsterboer lawsuit and another one against KCBX Terminals Co., which also handles the substance, are pending.
Petcoke has been part of the industrial landscape for decades as refineries installed 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 substance isn't classified as hazardous, but it contains heavy metals and inhaling the fine particles can cause respiratory problems.