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Southeast Side residents sue companies over petcoke storage

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A group of Southeast Side residents filed a class-action suit against British Petroleum, Koch Carbon and several other companies and subsidiaries, claiming they declined to properly destroy and discard the chemical mixture known as “petcoke,” instead choosing to sell it, contaminating the area.

The suit, filed Monday in federal court, accuses BP, Koch Carbon, KCBX Terminals, George J. Beemsterboer Inc. and KM Railways of each knowingly and intentionally producing, marketing and selling the chemical mixture of petroleum coke instead of destroying it, with residue coating the homes and property of residents throughout the surrounding South Chicago neighborhood.

Area residents expressed worry recently at a public meeting about the black dust they say continuously coats their homes and belongings.

“Instead of safely disposing and deconstructing the petcoke, [the] defendants have chosen to sell it and distribute it and mark it for profit,” the suit stated. “It is a marketing enterprise that despoils and degrades every environment it touches.”

The petcoke is a byproduct of BP’s oil refinery in Whiting, Ind., the suit stated. KCBX — a subsidiary of Koch Industries — owns and operates petcoke storage facilities near the Calumet River. Koch Carbon, Beemsterboer and KM Railways also own and operate petcoke storage facilities in the South Chicago neighborhood. KM Railways, another Koch subsidiary, also owns nearby rail equipment.

The six-count suit alleges willful and wanton conduct, abnormally dangerous activity, strict liability in tort, trespassing, public nuisance, private nuisance and declaratory relief. The residents are seeking an undisclosed amount in damages.

Representatives from BP, Koch Carbon and Beemsterboer could not be reached for comment Monday.

The refinery and storage facilities have come under fire from residents and public officials in recent weeks.

On Nov. 4, Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against KCBX for alleged air pollution caused by petcoke and coal at its location along the Calumet River. The suit alleges the growing mounds are sending clouds of black dust into nearby neighborhoods. On Nov. 18, Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered the city’s Department of Public Health to develop regulations to crack down on petcoke. Two days later, Ald. Edward Burke (14th) proposed containment or an outright ban the substance, the Sun-Times reported.

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