City expands pollution study after EPA cites Southeast Side company

on Aug7

7 August 2017 | 11:43 pm

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigators on Monday cited a Southeast Side industrial storage facility for emitting high levels of manganese, prompting city officials to expand studies on residents’ exposure to the toxic dust.

The EPA pressured S.H. Bell Company to install air monitors at their facility at 10218 S. Avenue O at the start of March, tracking concentrations of the natural element used in steel production.

Through the end of June, the monitors detected an average of 0.32 micrograms of manganese per cubic meter, federal authorities announced on Monday. The minimal risk level is 0.3 micrograms.

Chronic inhalation of elevated manganese levels can lead to neurological damage, with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In March, the city’s Department of Public Health urged S.H. Bell to look into storing manganese in fully contained buildings to limit so-called “fugitive dust” from polluting the air. The outdoor storage facility sits adjacent to residential streets.

The city announced on Monday that it has hired a consultant to test the air and soil near homes in the Far South Side neighborhood, a longtime industrial dumping ground.

City inspectors will also expand investigations into other companies that handle manganese, according to a statement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

“Holding these companies accountable is about protecting the health of our children, our communities and our environment,” Emanuel was quoted as saying.

S.H. Bell spokeswoman Alyssa Pistininzi said the company welcomes the city’s study.

“We agree that we need a more comprehensive look at all companies in the area handling manganese, 27 that we know of, to fully evaluate the air quality in our community,” Pistininzi said in an email, noting that warm summer weather generates more dust and could have affected the high manganese readings.

S.H. Bell will start operating a vacuum-like dust collector this month, she said.

The company has 30 days to respond to the EPA’s findings.

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