By William S. Bike
Is the MAT Asphalt plant at 2055 W. Pershing Rd. a good McKinley Park area neighbor following environmental standards? Or is it a nuisance causing bad odors and jeopardizing local residents’ health and safety?
MAT Asphalt cites a study by Ensafe, an international environmental testing and consulting company, which reviewed 60 area odor complaints to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for which the IEPA had date, time, and location information. Because of factors such as the plant not operating or wind direction, Ensafe ruled that 62% of the complaints could not be the result of MAT Asphalt operations. The other 38% were not necessarily the fault of MAT Asphalt; Ensafe could not make a determination with the available data.
Michael Tadin Jr., co-owner of MAT Asphalt, pointed out, “There was a seven-week strike starting June 7. The plant wasn’t even operating, yet we had to respond to ten or 15 odor complaints.”
He noted that Neighbors for Environmental Justice (N4EJ), on the organization’s Facebook page, “every Monday, they promote odor complaints.”
Tadin asserted, “There is no odor coming from this plant at all.” He explained that this year MAT Asphalt has added an asphalt odor neutralizing chemical to operations that “masks 99.9%” of odors.
Anthony Moser, McKinley Park resident and N4EJ board member, disagreed. “Cooking thousands of tons of that material produces an odor,” he said. “That’s why MAT Asphalt has more air pollution complaints than any other address in the city. Does Mr. Tadin claim that City inspectors are lying when they describe it?”
Concerning complaints filed when the plant was closed, Moser said, “We encourage people to report air pollution. Often that’s MAT Asphalt, because they are the most frequent offenders, but McKinley Park does have other industrial producers, and it’s possible that people might have assumed it was the usual troublemakers.
“It sounds like Mr. Tadin is just assuming all complaints are from us,” Moser continued. “Our recent analysis shows complaints have been filed from between 65 and 126 locations in McKinley Park.”
Moser noted, “Anyone who has driven through road work knows what hot asphalt smells like.” Tadin countered, “You can barely smell an odor even when we are paving streets, let alone from 1,800 feet away”—the distance of the housing nearest the plant, according to Tadin.
A recent study by CleanAir Engineering, an environmental testing organization, in cooperation with the IEPA and the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health and with a protocol approved by the U.S. EPA, included testing emissions from MAT Asphalt and two other rival asphalt production facilities in the city.
CleanAir found that MAT Asphalt’s emissions are about one-twentieth of the allowable regulatory limit and less than 1% of the permissible amount of particulate matter.
“This study confirms the assurances that we have been giving our neighbors and the entire McKinley Park community,” Tadin said.
Moser is not assured, however. “For starters, the study he’s citing only measured the output of one part of the process,” Moser said. “It doesn’t count their biggest source of particulate emissions. Their first IEPA permit application was rejected because it also didn’t count fugitive emissions, which would have added more than 233 tons of particulate matter to their totals and qualified them as a ‘major source’ of pollution.”
Tadin countered that CleanAir “tested everything under the sun. We’re far below our limits.”
“But we’re not comparing them to the regulatory limit,” Moser said. “We’re comparing them to the air quality we had before they opened. Every single pollutant they measured in that report is something we weren’t breathing until they showed up.”
Tadin takes issue with that, noting his plant sits in the Stockyards Planned Manufacturing District (PMD), “the most historical PMD, probably, in the country” which “allows for intensive manufacturing.”
While some have criticized a lack of public input and community meetings when Tadin wanted to build his plant in 2018, he noted that, “If you understand the zoning code, we did everything properly. We went to the IEPA and did all our proper permitting. We got our construction and building permits. Everything south of Pershing there was always in the PMD.”
In fact, he finds criticism of his plant supposedly causing problems to residents disingenuous, because the closest residences are 1,800 feet away. Because the City of Chicago defines a City block as 660 feet, that is nearly three blocks away.
“There is a concrete and asphalt plant mere feet away from where the new casino in Chicago is going,” Tadin explained. “There are million-dollar houses near there. But they don’t get the level of scrutiny that my plant gets. My plant is further away from houses and parks than any other plant.”
He added that other asphalt plants in the city are decades old, but “We’re probably in the top 1% of plants in the country, we have a brand-new plant designed to be in the city, and we have a positive capture that captures all emissions.”
The positive capture method features ductwork that draws particulate matter from the facility’s mixing drum and assures it never enters the atmosphere.
Tadin noted that, as his competitors were part of the CleanAir Engineering study, “We call on them to release those study results, which we are confident will further reflect our facility’s superiority in minimizing environmental harm to all in the community,” he said.
Locals have complained about safety issues caused by MAT Asphalt truck traffic, but Tadin again noted that, with the plant located in a PMD, truck traffic is nothing new and that MAT Asphalt takes extra safety precautions.
“Pershing Road is a Class II truck route,” he explained. “That’s the highest truck traffic you can have in the City of Chicago. Two blocks to the east there are City departments—water, sewer, and the Chicago Department of Transportation. We create minimal traffic compared to what they’re doing.
“We leave a turning lane,” Tadin continued. “We’re only open about eight hours a day, eight months a year five days a week with maybe one more Saturday a month. I have a man outside full time who makes sure everyone gets in and out safely.”
Moser disagreed, saying, “We haven’t seen any safety precautions, unless he’s talking about ‘chair guy,’ the angry man in the office chair at the end of their driveway. He stops traffic, yells at people, blasts music from a PA speaker and photographs residents, but that’s not doing anything to protect people. We have photos and video.”
Tadin asserted that, “We have an open book, open door policy,” but N4EJ “only came one time.”
Moser countered, “We can’t work with them when they deny there’s any problem to resolve. If they are interested in engaging with the community, they can start by admitting that cooking asphalt isn’t exactly a pollution-free, odorless process.
“These people don’t act in good faith, and there’s no reason we should pretend that they do,” Moser said.
N4EJ notes the plant’s construction permit expired in July 2019, for example, “but the Illinois EPA has chosen to allow them to keep operating anyway.”
Tadin countered that once again his plant is operating completely lawfully, noting that according to the law the original “permit is still valid” beyond the expiration date pending an IEPA ruling. When the permit expired in 2019, the IEPA set a hearing for January 2020, then delayed it until March 2020, when the covid pandemic resulted in its cancellation. The IEPA has not held the hearing yet.
“We’ve been ready for this hearing for three years,” Tadin added, noting his company has shown good faith. “Last year they [IEPA] wanted us to do all new testing, which we did.”
Tadin believes his work benefits the community by providing jobs and services, noting “I built Marina Crossings,” a 700,000 square-foot industrial building on 2075 W. 43rd St. “We brought in Nature’s Fynd, an environmentally friendly food manufacturing company,” Tadin said, adding that his facility also allowed a can manufacturer to expand.
“We want to continue to bring in businesses that benefit the community,” Tadin said, noting his asphalt operation provides “service at a cost savings for the City. After the winter there’s potholes everywhere. Having a plant in this PMD in the central part of the city is good for the taxpayers.”
After a group of alderpersons led by Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) recently got the City to reject asphalt companies’ bids to meet the City’s asphalt needs until the companies could do better in showing how they will control pollution, Tadin questioned Sigcho-Lopez’s motives, wondering if the alderman favors a rival plant in the 25th Ward. “Who is putting him up to it?” Tadin asked.
Sigcho-Lopez said he does not trust asphalt companies’ analysis and reporting and asked that officials restore the now-defunct City Department of the Environment, “so we can have regular reporting and inspections and assure that the minimal environmental standards are followed.”
The alderman explained several plants are operating in “areas where you already have high pollution that had accumulated over time. So, for something that for a particular plant may be very minor, in the aggregate we may have a serious health hazard.”
He noted the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development “is actually investigating environmental racism in the City of Chicago. Why did the City approve an affordable housing site right next to MAT Asphalt?”
For Tadin, that approval is proof of his plant’s environmental safety, and he noted that Alderman George Cardenas, who has a four-year-old daughter, lives at 39th Street and Western Avenue.
“It’s preposterous to think that he would put his own child at risk if there was a risk,” Tadin said.
Alderman George Cardenas and the IEPA did not respond to multiple attempts to contact them for comment.
MAT Asphalt was developed by a partnership that includes Buildsmore LLC, owned by Tony Sanchez; McKinley Park LLC, owned by Charles and Dan Gallagher; and MAT Asphalt LLC, owned by Michael Tadin Jr.
For more about CleanAir Engineering, log on to www.cleanair.com. For Ensafe, log on to ensafe.com or call (901) 372-7962. For MAT Asphalt, log on to matasphalt.com. For N4EJ, log on to www.n4ej.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.