While a McKinley Park grassroots group opposes operations at the MAT Asphalt plant at 2033 W. Pershing Rd. because of their environmental impact, the plant’s owner, backed by longstanding zoning and a partial sample of Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) statistics, said he intends to stay and operate under the current guidelines.
A pending determination to convert the plant’s permit from temporary to a ten-year approval has sparked an IEPA-led neighborhood meeting planned for March. The IEPA in late January still was confirming the meeting date, time, and place.
The IEPA’s final licensure determination will include weighing remarks from those attending and written comments up to 30 days after the meeting.
Residents formed Neighbors for Environmental Justice (NEJ) in early 2018, said board member Anthony Moser. He pointed out multiple issues resulting in an opposition petition that garnered more than 2,000 signatures.
First, neighbors found out about the plant just months before it began operating in July of that year. He described the plant’s ability to receive a permit in a neighborhood classified as in an environmental justice zone (based on income and/or population diversity) as “shocking” because he believes IEPA did not notify residents properly of its proximity to homes and to McKinley Park, a popular area frequented by families.
“I take my daughter and walk through the park, and you can see smoke pouring out of the columns and it smells,” Moser said.
Chris Pressnall, an IEPA environmental justice coordinator, said, “Neighbors for Environmental Justice did not exist when we mailed notifications to our known groups and elected officials” in 2017.
Measuring the plant’s environmental impact is another issue, Moser said.
IEPA statistics for 2018 (2019 stats will not be available until later this year) show the plant’s emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic material fell well within the permit’s limits.
Moser said recent Freedom of Information Act results generated by the NEJ show the plant is not in compliance for certain chemicals including volatile organic compounds, sometimes referred to as volatile organic materials.
“Nobody has ever measured the content of the plant emissions to verify that they are in compliance,” Moser said, noting the “stack test” at the end of 2018 “only measured the opacity of the smoke and the amount of particulate matter.” He said the information shows the State and the City have not measured emission contents.
“To our knowledge, the company itself is also not measuring these things,” he added.
MAT Asphalt plant owner Michael Tadin Jr. stands by the IEPA’s test results.
“There is no odor or smell,” Tadin said. “We have done everything we can to be environmentally friendly. We had an open house last fall for neighbors. For some, you’re never going to pacify them.”
Moser also said his group questions activities of Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward), the local alderman and chair of the City’s Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy which helped approve the plant. He pointed to political contributions to the alderman.
A review of Illinois Sunshine, a site that details such contributions, shows a $10,000 contribution from MAT Leasing (owned by Michael Tadin Sr. and associated with MAT Asphalt) to the Friends of George Cardenas in 2017 was returned and then resubmitted to Twelve PAC, a fund that promotes the growth of Chicago area communities. Cardenas chairs that fund.
Cardenas said politics is involved because an NEJ founding member, Pete DeMay, ran against him twice before the plant’s construction. Moser said DeMay has stepped away from the group.
“It’s foolish to believe that donations made everything possible and, most importantly, such a claim makes a mockery of the environmental issues we face in Chicago,” Cardenas said.
Cardenas said the plant’s zoning has been in place for “a very, very long time, and I believe that continued industrial use of this area is reasonable.”
He said he will work with all parties involved in the issue and plans to attend the March meeting.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency site is www2.illinois.gov/epa, or call (271) 782-3397. To reach Neighbors for Environmental Justice, go to www.n4ej.org. For Ald. George Cardenas, go to www.12thwardchicago.com, or call (773) 523-8250. For more on Illinois Sunshine, go to https://www.illinoissunshine.org., or call (312) 436-1274.