A cadre of elected officials, their representatives and community members stand when asked whether they oppose the MAT Asphalt permit at the town hall meeting on Thursday, January 16, at the National Latino Education Institute

Environmental Town Hall Draws Hundreds of Residents and Federal, State and Local Officials

Published January 18, 2020

"We don't want pollution to just move to another area," said Illinois 1st District State Representative Aarón Ortiz, one of several elected officials from all levels of government speaking at the Southwest Environmental Town Hall meeting on Thursday evening, January 16, at the National Latino Education Institute.

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Ortiz, joined by Chicago 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho Lopez, Illinois 2nd District State Representative Theresa Mah, Illinois 1st District State Senator Tony Muñoz, Cook County 7th District Commissioner Alma Anaya, U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski and staff of U.S. Representative Jesús "Chuy" Garcia, stood when asked to stand to indicate their opposition to issuance of a 10-year operating permit for MAT Asphalt, a two-year-old asphalt plant sited in an industrial zone near the institute.

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Southwest Environmental Town Hall Byron Sigcho Lopez 2020011625th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho Lopez speaks at the town hall meeting on Thursday, January 16 at the National Latino Education Institute.

A "Red Carpet"

The town hall meeting, which attracted more than 200 people, is one in a series hosted by the Southwest Environmental Alliance, a new group with representatives from seven neighborhoods on the Southwest Side, including the McKinley Park neighborhood. Theresa McNamara, one of the organizers of the alliance and a 36-year resident of McKinley Park, decried the heavy and disproportionate costs born by local residents as displayed in red in a 2018 map from the National Resources Defense Council.

"We want to make this red carpet disappear," she said.

UIC Partnership

At the town hall meeting, University of Illinois at Chicago Professor Michael Cailas announced a partnership between the alliance and the university's School of Public Health comprising a study to identify the impact of chronic environmental hazards on Southwest Side communities. "It's very important to document the impact," he said.

Cailas shared some preliminary study results that compared Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites in designated industrial zones in the Southwest and Northwest sides of Chicago. Is the Northwest as "risky" as the Southwest, he asked.

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Although both areas contain similar numbers of TRI sites, Cailas said, a Block Group-level study of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) risk scores showed a band of hot spots through the Southwest Side with big spikes in the Lower West Side, South Lawndale and New City community areas.

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Wrigleyville vs. McKinley Park Air

Southwest Environmental Town Hall Dan Lipinski 20200116U.S. Congressman Dan Lipinski speaks on restoring EPA jobs at the environmental town hall meeting on Thursday, January 16, at the National Latino Education Institute.Alliance organizer and McKinley Park neighborhood resident Ed McNamara highlighted the infrequency of inspections of local industrial sites and the lack of community notice for toxic leaks and spills. Among a list of incidents, he highlighted the $405,000 fine that Clean Harbors Inc. at 1445 W. 42nd St. received for an illegal release of 157 tons of hazardous waste, a $140,000 fine for BWAY Corporation (now Mauser Packaging Solutions) at 3200 S. Kilborn Ave. for an emissions release adjacent to Little Village Lawndale High School and fines and lack of recent inspections for Ozinga's facility at 2222 S. Lumber St. and Welsh Ready Mix Inc.'s plant at 2330 S. Morgan St.

The R&B Powder Coating, Inc. business at 4000 S. Bell Ave., a Toxic Release Inventory site next door to Horizon Science Academy - McKinley Park, received scrutiny from Ed McNamara as the Environmental Justice Index for this site was dramatically higher than numbers for particulate matter, cancer risk and respiratory hazards as compared to Craftsman Plating & Tinning Corp. at 1239 W. School. St. (now closed). Why should Wrigleyville get clean air and we don't, he asked.

Opposition to MAT Asphalt

The MAT Asphalt plant at 2033 W. Pershing Road received the most attention at the town hall meeting, with Southwest Environmental Alliance members encouraging all to attend an upcoming public hearing of the Bureau of Air of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). The hearing, originally scheduled for late January, is postponed to a to-be-announced date, and will be held "to receive comments and answer questions from the public concerning the application," the IEPA said in a notice announcing a public hearing and comment period for the Federally Enforceable State Operating Permit (FESOP).

The IEPA "has reviewed the application and made a preliminary determination that the application meets the standards for issuance," the notice stated.

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A Project Summary from the IEPA notes that measured emissions levels from MAT Asphalt fall within regulated limits, and that production volume for the facility will be regulated by the FESOP so that the plant operates below what is considered a "major source" of pollution by the U.S. federal government. "The source has met the requirements for issuance of the permit," the project summary stated. "The Illinois EPA is therefore proposing to issue the permit."

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MAT Asphalt co-owner Michael Tadin Jr. said that the business wants to be a good neighbor. "MAT Asphalt hears the community loud and clear, and we share the community's concerns," he said.

Southwest Environmental Town Hall Carmen Velasquez 20200116Carmen Velásquez of Alivio Medical Center speaks on the effects of pollution on community health at the town hall meeting on Thursday, January 16, at the National Latino Education Institute."We have invested in the most sophisticated pollution-control systems available," Tadin said. "The MAT Asphalt plant is one of the most environmentally friendly facilities in the nation," he said, noting the IEPA draft permit's findings that plant emissions remain below one-fourth of allowable limits.

"We look forward to presenting the facts about MAT Asphalt’s responsible and environmentally sound operations at the Illinois EPA permit hearing," Tadin said. MAT Asphalt is not a Toxic Release Inventory site, he said.

As previously reported here in the McKinley Park News, the MAT Asphalt plant was built as a partnership between Tadin, Buildsmore LLC, owned by Tony Sanchez, and McKinely Park LLC, owned by Charles and Dan Gallagher. It is located in Planned Manufacturing District No. 8, one of the areas the City of Chicago has designated for heavy industry and use-by-right for petroleum-based businesses such as asphalt plants.

In order for the MAT Asphalt plant to be constructed, a vacant plot of land next to the plant had to be rezoned back to a commercial district: Its zoning had been changed to residential in 2004. The plot had its designation changed back to commercial in 2017 with the approval of the property owner and the support of 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas.

Pledges to Support the Environment

In addition to standing in opposition to issuance of the permit for MAT Asphalt, elected officials at the town hall meeting pledged a variety of measures and ideas to strengthen local environmental protections. "Have [environmental] studies in place before issuing permits," said Sigcho Lopez, who also encouraged his fellow elected officials to reject campaign funding from polluting industries and for all attendees to support a Green New Deal.

Muñoz pledged to work toward a commitment from Illinois capital funding to site persistent, advanced air monitoring equipment within the community. Lipinski said he would both lobby for restoration of U.S. EPA Region 5 inspector jobs and have the agency check with Cook County for compliance issues.

Mah noted her already-sent letter to the IEPA opposing the MAT Asphalt permit, her legislative work on environmental issues and the endorsements she's received from environmental groups. Anaya spoke to the needs of coordination between all levels of government and the effects of pollution as seen through patients in the Cook County healthcare system.

Other speakers at the town hall meeting included Carmen Velásquez, founder of Alivio Medical Center, and Lydia Arroyo, one of the primary organizers of the meeting and the Southwest Environmental Alliance. The group and elected officials present agreed to meet again within 30 days to "develop a comprehensive plan of action to reduce pollution in our communities."

Southwest Environmental Town Hall crowd standing room only 20200116A standing-room-only crowd fills the National Latino Education Institute's main meeting room to capacity at the environmental town hall meeting on Thursday, January 16.

Ed. Note: Friends of Theresa Mah and MAT Asphalt participate in the Sponsorship Program of the McKinley Park News, which ensconces the independence of reporting, editorial decision-making and news content from Sponsor interests as stated in our Editorial Standards and Policies and Sponsorship Agreement.

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