What is Petroleum Coke?

In the fall and winter of 2013, there were several news reports about the petroleum coke storage piles on the southeast side of Chicago. Petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” is a solid carbon material that resembles coal. Facilities that store and handle this material are required to take measures to prevent the offsite dispersion of dust. In order to ensure that the facilities are complying with the law, the City is asking residents near these facilities to report any observations of dust coming from these sites.

Petcoke FAQs

What is Petcoke and where is it coming from?

Petroleum Coke, or “petcoke,” is a solid, carbon material derived as a byproduct of the oil refining process.  Petcoke is typically used as a fuel source in power plants. 

Why is the City issuing this ‘call’?

The City is asking the public to call 311 and report sightings of dust that may be coming from one or more petcoke piles. This call is being done to gather more information about this issue, and to inform additional investigations.   It is important that all businesses operating in Chicago be responsible corporate citizens, comply with the law and be conscious of residents and their surrounding neighborhoods.

What should I expect after I report a sighting of dust that may appear to be petcoke?

Your complaint will be assigned to an environmental inspector as soon as possible, no later than the following business day. The inspector will investigate the complaint and may call you for more information.

What specific information does the City wish to know?

The City wishes to know the following: 1) where the dust is being observed (e.g., in homes, on the property, on the public way, etc.); 2) what the dust looks like (e.g., color, thickness, etc.); 3) what the wind conditions were like when the dust was observed (e.g., mild, moderate or strong); 4) where the dust was blowing from; and 5) how long the dust has been observed.

What is the City doing to address the petcoke issue?

The City issued Regulations to require existing petcoke facilities to enclose all of their storage piles and take other measures to prevent dust from leaving the site. More information about the Regulations is available here: www.cityofchicago.org/EnvironmentalRulesandRegulations. In addition, the City recently passed ordinance that prohibits the establishment of any new petcoke and coal facilities or the expansion of any existing facilities. Mayor Emanuel also previously joined Attorney General Madigan in an agreed order that required pet coke storage operator Beemsterboer Slag Corp. to remove piles of the harmful refinery byproduct from its facility and to cease accepting additional materials while litigation proceeds against the company.

What are the health effects associated with this dust?

This dust, like other dust, can cause short-term health impacts such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. Dust can also aggravate respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Are there other health effects I should be concerned of?

There are no other known illnesses or health effects associated with petcoke dust. This was the conclusion of a report issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) based on available scientific data. This report and its finding can be accessed at: http://www.epa.gov/chemrtk/hpvis/hazchar/Category_Petroleum%20Coke_June_2011.pdf

What should I do if I’m experiencing any illness or health issue I believe is attributed to petcoke dust?

If you or a family member are experiencing any illness or health issue you believe is attributed to petcoke dust, we recommend that you bring this to the attention of your physician or other health care provider.

Is there anything I can do to avoid being exposed to petcoke dust?

Limit spending times outdoors or outdoor activities, especially under conditions where more dust is more likely to be present (i.e., dry and windy conditions). Keep windows closed. Clean floors and other surfaces in your home to get rid of dust.


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If you have photographs or other documentation of petcoke dust, please send an e-mail to: reportpetcoke@cityofchicago.org

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