Technicians from Clean Air Engineering test emissions from the MAT Asphalt plant in the Central Manufacturing District during testing on July 29, 2021, under observation of the Illinois Environmental Protetion Agency.

Emissions Testing, Tracking Targets MAT Asphalt, Neighborhood Air Quality

Published August 29, 2021

A series of recent initiatives have focused on air quality in Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood, including Illinois Environmental Agency (IEPA) testing of the MAT Asphalt plant on July 29 and 30, 2021.

 
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The testing at MAT Asphalt, which took place as part of an October 2020 Memorandum of Understanding between the IEPA and the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois - Chicago (UIC), included point emissions testing at the facility’s smokestack on top of its bag house: a structure that acts as a filter to capture emissions from the plant.

 
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“If that bag house is working correctly, we should see no issues,” IEPA Specialist Kevin Mattison said of the point emissions testing.

IEPA Observers

He, along with IEPA Environmental Protection Engineer Daniel Delgado, remained on-site at MAT Asphalt during the July tests to observe and qualify the testing process, a service contracted from CleanAir Engineering, a private company specializing in emissions testing.

Mattison explained that all testing methods and emissions equipment had to meet specific U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requirements. For example, the MAT Asphalt testing on Tuesday, July 29, included U.S. EPA test Method 29 – Metals Emissions from Stationary Sources, Mattison said.

The Urban Air Chicago video explains the new air sensor network set up in Chicago from Microsoft Research and JCDecaux.

In order for MAT Asphalt to meet emissions standards, the plant must release no more than 0.04 grains of particulate matter per cubic foot of air, said Brian Derry, principal at Ensafe, an environmental consulting firm contracted by MAT Asphalt. A grain is a unit of weight of about 0.065 grams, or 7,000 grains per pound.

 
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The testing process at MAT Asphalt involved isokinetic sampling that accurately measures emissions by volume and velocity, Derry said, using glass impingers to capture emissions and then sending results to a meter box that records results and the testing process.

During the testing, the MAT Asphalt plant ran at 100 percent capacity in order to most accurately measure its highest possible emissions, Derry said.

Odor Complaints

Delgado said he also visited nearby locations in the McKinley Park neighborhood to check odor nuisances from the plant as part of the IEPA assessment.

A technician from CleanAir Engineering tests that impingers are free from contamination before use in IEPA testing at MAT Asphalt on July 29, 2021.A technician from CleanAir Engineering tests that impingers are free from contamination before use in IEPA testing at MAT Asphalt on July 29, 2021.Illinois elected officials, including U.S. senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, U.S. representatives Jesús “Chuy” García and Marie Newman, and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, have focused on MAT Asphalt based on more than 100 odor complaints filed with the IEPA.

The U.S. congresspeople sent a June 2021 letter to the U.S. EPA requesting federal agency oversight of testing at the plant, and Raoul announced in August that his office would be looking into MAT Asphalt based on the odor complaints.

“We were glad to conduct the testing when the IEPA asked us to do so,” said MAT Asphalt co-owner Michael Tadin Jr. “This is an opportunity for us to further demonstrate that these complaints are exaggerated, at best, and in many cases without any merit.”

Results Pending

Results from the MAT Asphalt testing have not yet been released by the IEPA; the Memorandum Of Understanding with UIC states that results will be posted on the IEPA website once available.

 
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The memorandum also states that the IEPA will study and assess emissions from all asphalt plants within the area bound by the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) on the north, the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) on the east, West 67th Street on the south and South Cicero Avenue on the west.

 
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As of time of publication of this article, the IEPA had not yet replied to inquires about what other asphalt plants will be tested or assessed, the testing schedule, and when the results from the MAT Asphalt testing would be available.

UIC School of Public Health Professor Michael Cailas, who leads a university team studying environmental justice issues in Chicago, said the school did not yet know the IEPA’s asphalt plant testing schedule, or if they would conduct testing at other plants versus relying on existing permit information.

Cailas said the IEPA identified seven asphalt production sites in the study area for consideration within the memorandum, in contrast to the 11 that his team identified as part of their first assessments of industry on the Southwest Side.

CTA Bus Stop Sensors

Additional initiatives have focused this summer on the McKinley Park neighborhood’s air quality, including a Chicago-wide air sensor network from Microsoft Research and international advertising company JCDecaux.

A meter box records results during IEPA air emissions testing at MAT Asphalt on July 29, 2021.A meter box records results during IEPA air emissions testing at MAT Asphalt on July 29, 2021.In McKinley Park, new sensors are installed on CTA bus stations at West 37th and South Ashland Avenue, at West Pershing Road and South Ashland Avenue, and at West Pershing Road and South Damen Avenue, across from the entrance to MAT Asphalt.

An online map displays current air quality readings, and QR codes on bus stops will let users check the most recent air quality measurements from that sensor, said Senior Researcher Madeline Daepp of Microsoft’s Urban Innovation Research group.

“We give tools to monitor air quality where [residents] live, work and play,” Daepp said, part of her team’s mandate to focus on urban health equity issues. “Air quality is a priority in Chicago.”

The sensors measure particulate matter (PM) quantities for different grades of fineness of these pollutants, including PM 1, PM 2.5 and PM 10, and they will hopefully soon include gas sensor measurements, too, Daepp said.

Jean-François Decaux, Chairman of the Executive Board and Co-Chief Executive Officer of JCDecaux, said the program will “furnish precise geo-localized data, useful to the city and to the dwellers’ well-being.”

“The unique density and coverage of street furniture in urban centers make them an ideal medium to plug [in] environmental services,” he said.

“One of the big insights isn’t raw data, but information and knowledge,” Daepp said, noting that the Microsoft Urban Innovation Research sensors "are not regulatory grade.”

 
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Placement of air sensors in McKinley Park were among the 15 the program set aside for positioning as recommended by community groups, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center and McKinley Park neighborhood protest group Neighbors for Environmental Justice, which responded to a request for proposal for sensor placement, Daepp said.

PurpleAir Network

IEPA observers and technicians from CleanAir engineering work atop the bag house at MAT Asphalt during emissions testing on July 29, 2021.IEPA observers and technicians from CleanAir engineering work atop the bag house at MAT Asphalt during emissions testing on July 29, 2021.Neighbors for Environmental Justice also recently announced installation of a new PurpleAir air monitoring sensor at the National Latino Education Institute (NLEI) adjacent to the entrance to MAT Asphalt.

As previously reported here in the McKinley Park News, the neighborhood group launched a set of PurpleAir sensors in 2018, including five for the McKinley Park neighborhood; there are now a total of four PurpleAir sensors in McKinley Park.

Like the Microsoft Urban Innovation Research sensors, the PurpleAir sensors are not regulatory grade and are distinct from the sensors and methods required by environmental regulatory agencies, the PurpleAir website stated.

Ed. Note: MAT Asphalt is a Sponsor of the McKinley Park News. For information about our operations and policies, see our About Us page and the Letter from the Editor "Building a Trustworthy News Business."


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