CHICAGO (CBS) — A decades-old toxic site might soon become home to a brand new gas station, going against promises made about redevelopment there. Neighbors concerned about their health and their children’s health are now suing the city to stop the project.
“Not one person was in favor of this. Not one person benefits from this,” neighbor Erika Castillo said.
A vocal group of people often gather near a triangular plot of land nestled between Ogden, Oakley, and 13th Street to show Thorntons how much their proposed gas station is not wanted in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood.
“We didn’t think it was going to be a gas station,” neighbor Margaret Bingham said.
“We would like to see something with more of a greener footprint,” said Tri-Taylor resident Mari Blair.
That’s because of the toxic history of the site. The area once housed the Acme Barrel Company, and leaking underground tanks that released dangerous chemicals, including PCBs.
Bingham has lived in Tri-Taylor for three decades.
“After a while, the fumes started coming up, and people got cancer,” she said.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said it’s one of the only EPA superfund sites in the city. Superfund sites are contaminated land deemed hazardous to human health and/or the environment, for which the EPA has mandated cleanup.
“That’s how contaminated this land was, and to come back with another contaminating activity makes absolutely no sense,” Ervin said.
The alderman said he and neighbors were promised anything but a gas station would be built on the land. At least two other gas stations already are located within a block of the site.
“The site originally was designated to be general commercial use; an office, potentially a hotel, or either a small grocer. That was the conversation that we had with the developer some five, six years ago,” Ervin said. “During that time, they had not been successful in getting what they thought they could get on the site, and then all of a sudden decided to go with a filling station, which we knew that the community was opposed to.”
This summer, the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals granted Thorntons the right to build on the land.
“This is a highly unusual case where our Zoning Board of Appeals actually decided against the community,” Ervin said.
The Illinois EPA has determined no more cleanup is needed, but neighbors remain concerned about potential new risks.
“For a gas station to come in here and put in gas tanks into the ground here just kind of doesn’t seem right after the land has already been cleaned up,” Blair said. “I just think it’s kind of a backwards move.”
A recent study out of Columbia University seems to back up those concerns.
Researchers measured levels of toxic vapors from gas stations, including the cancer-causing chemical benzene. They found emissions peaked 10 times higher than estimates suggest, and traveled further away – as far as 1 ½ football fields.
“I’m worried for my son, my future family,” Castillo said. “We’re concerned about the pollution it’s going to bring.”
The Tri-Taylor Community Association is suing Thorntons and The Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals to halt construction of the gas station.
The Illinois EPA said whatever is built on that old toxic site must meet certain conditions about building materials, and must also caution construction workers about potential risks.