R&B Powder Coating, sited at 4000 S. Bell Ave., Chicago, in a Pershing Road building shared with other local businesses, is the sole neighborhood Toxic Release Inventory site listed in the study from University of Illinois at Chicago researchers and the Southwest Environmental Alliance.

Local Pollution Hotspots, Coming Industrial Development IDed in UIC Study

Published July 14, 2020

Emissions sources in the McKinley Park neighborhood and the Southwest Side of Chicago are under scrutiny in a new study released by a team of University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) researchers in partnership with the Southwest Environmental Alliance (SEA), an area environmental advocacy group.

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The study, "Identifying Environmental Hazards within Southwest Chicago," is presented as an interactive document with clickable maps. It focuses primarily on the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites in the study area, as these are the most significant and quantified sources of pollution, said Michael Cailas, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at UIC's School of Public Health.

"We are using TRIs to make sure we have reliable data on toxic emissions," Cailas said. "We are relying on EPA data (and other pubic agencies) to document the relative/comparative exposures and establish the disproportional burden on these communities."

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In addition to scrutinizing TRI sites in the study area and their specific emissions, the study also examined other local sources of emissions and areas of community concern, including local asphalt plants, freight hubs and railways, nearby major highways, and brownfields. The study also looked at area demographics, the chemicals released into the air as fugitive and stack emissions, relative pollution burdens, and how City of Chicago zoning and development planning will likely keep bringing more industry to the Southwest Side. 

The study area includes a swath of the Southwest Side of Chicago that covers the McKinley Park, New City, Little Village, Brighton Park, Pilsen, Chinatown and Bridgeport community areas.

The interactive Landscape map from the "Identifying Environmental Hazards within Southwest Chicago" study shows local TRI sites, highways and railways, brownfields, asphalt plants and more.

Although the online study is marked as being in draft status, it is effectively complete, and the UIC research team is ready to share its results, said UIC research team member Joel Flax-Hatch. "Any new changes ... will not be substantive from a data perspective," he said.

Emissions in McKinley Park

The environmental hazards study placed special attention on TRI sites located outside of the designated industrial corridors and Planned Manufacturing Districts in its study area. Of the four such sites in the study area, one lies in the McKinley Park neighborhood area: the R&B Powder Coating business at 4000 S. Bell Avenue, located in a Central Manufacturing District building next to Horizon Science Academy - McKinley Park and a couple hundred feet south of the McKinley Park field house on the other side of Pershing Road.

SEA UIC study fugitive emissions Southwest Side Chicago 202007The interactive fugitive emissions map in the "Identifying Environmental Hazards within Southwest Chicago" study shows local TRI sites and the relative volume of their non-smokestack emissions.The study lists R&B Powder Coating's TRI-tracked output as 8,608 pounds of the chemical toluene released annually, and solely from fugitive emissions. "Low to moderate levels of exposure to toluene have been found to have negative impacts on the central nervous system including dysfunction and narcosis," the environmental hazards study said. "Studies have shown low likelihood that the substance is a carcinogen."

Of all the chemicals released into the study area, toluene accounts for about 12 percent of total fugitive air emissions, and 6 percent of total emissions, which also include emissions from smokestacks, the study said. "Fugitive emissions are likely to disperse locally compared to emissions which originate from a smokestack."

R&B Powder Coating lists itself as a local, family-owned business in operation since 1983. Its services include powder coating, painting, blasting and related services.

An R&B employee at the business noted how the company is part of a larger enterprise that fills the Pershing Road building it resides in, which includes rapidly growing companies like New Star Lighting and hundreds of local workers employed by the companies inside. The powder coating business has been at its current location for decades, the employee said.

Local Asphalt Plants

"A major concern for the SEA communities are the numerous asphalt-producing facilities that are not listed in the TRI program," the study said. Noted within the study area are eleven asphalt plants, some of which continue to operate on decades-old equipment that does not meet contemporary environmental standards, a practice enabled by grandfather clauses for existing businesses.

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The study lists three asphalt plants in the McKinley Park neighborhood and Central Manufacturing District: MAT Asphalt at  2055 W. Pershing Road, Chicago, Beverly Asphalt Paving Company at 1514 W. Pershing Road, Chicago, and Chicago Ace Paving at 3680 S. Archer Ave., Chicago. Of the three, MAT Asphalt and Beverly Asphalt Paving Company have production facilities located within a Planned Manufacturing District (PMD), an area that the City of Chicago has specifically designated for industry.

Nearby Pollution Hot Spots

The environmental hazards study notes many sources of emissions near the McKinley Park neighborhood, which is sandwiched between long stretches of industry and TRI sites, especially to the north and northwest, and to the south and southeast in the Stockyards PMD.

SEA UIC study rail highway train yard Southwest Side Chicago 202007A screen shot of the interactive map from the "Identifying Environmental Hazards within Southwest Chicago" study illustrates how railways and a major highway surround the McKinley Park neighborhood."Within the SEA area, there are multiple freight hubs which are known to contribute to elevated levels of particulate matter and ozone in the air," the study said. The landscape map within the SEA study illustrates how the McKinley Park neighborhood is nearly entirely encircled by rail lines, with Conrail's large and busy Ashland Avenue Rail Yard forming the south border of the Central Manufacturing District.

Nearby highways are another pollution source highlighted by the study, including stretches of the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94), the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) and the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), which forms the northern border of the McKinley Park neighborhood. "Communities living adjacent to major highways have experienced elevated levels of air pollution, specifically from diesel, and in some cases, lead," the study states.

Cailas noted how research efforts are ongoing, and how the team hopes to add more detail about subjects such as the effects of proximity to emissions sources. "The weather is another major factor, since more pollution is likely to come in from the west," he said. "Eventually we will account for it as well."

More Industry Planned for the Area

The environmental hazards study zeroed in on "the essence of the industrial burden problem" as being tied to the study's location, "the only densely populated residential area within Chicago that is surrounded by a highway and large areas of industrial corridors and Planned Manufacturing Districts," the study stated. 

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The study identified multiple trends that would support continued industrial growth in the area, including an analysis of the available building space in Chicago's PMDs: The Pilsen PMD to the north of McKinley Park and the Stockyards PMD to the southeast together offer almost 40 percent of the available industrial building space in the city, the study noted.

SEA UIC study zoning employment Southwest Side Chicago 202007A set of comparison maps in the "Identifying Environmental Hazards within Southwest Chicago" study shows industrial corridors (grey) and Planned Manufacturing Districts (purple) in the left map, and, in the right map, City of Chicago planned employment trends for "Info & Tech" (red), "Business to Business" (orange), "Manufacturing" (purple) and "Manufacturing and Moving & Storing" (green).City of Chicago programs and planning also point toward more industrial development moving into the study area, researchers wrote. The July 2017 deconversion of the Kinzie and North Branch Industrial corridors was accompanied by creation of an Industrial Corridor System Fund for "the preservation, development and/or growth of industrial uses in receiving corridors." These receiving corridors were listed as including the nearby Stockyards, Pilsen, Little Village, Brighton Park and Stevenson industrial areas. 

In addition, the 2017 Industrial Corridor Modernization Initiative from then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel plots out the likely employment trends within Chicago's industrial corridors. "Based on these trend estimates, the SEA community areas will be mainly employed in categories of [Manufacturing and Moving & Storing]," the study wrote. "In comparison, the employment trend for the rezoned North Branch was 'Info & Tech' and 'Business to Business.'"

"It is only a matter of time," the study said. "Given the location of the SEA communities, ... the City will be investing in the 'development and/or growth of industrial uses' in the area."

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