February 22, 2019

Duckworth, Durbin & Kelly Demand EPA Block Southeast Chicago Company from Exposing Children to Brain Damage

Thousands of people, including small children, living within a mile of Watco Transloading likely exposed to neurotoxin


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL-02) are requesting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take immediate action to stop a company on the Southeast Side of Chicago from releasing unsafe levels of a known neurotoxin into the air in violation of the Clean Air Act. The Members of Congress are also asking the EPA to work with an un-biased, third-party engineering firm to audit Watco Transloading to determine the extent of the company’s chronic manganese pollution and whether it can be eliminated – and to install continuous air monitors at every school within two miles of the facility. Research has discovered that children on the Southeast Side of Chicago have high levels of manganese exposure, which can negatively affect brain development, lead to permanent neurological disorders and decreases in children’s learning and memory capacities.

“We are concerned that Watco Transloading has a chronic manganese pollution problem and request that your team immediately act to protect the health of the surrounding community,” Duckworth, Durbin and Kelly wrote in a letter to EPA Region 5 Administrator Cathy Stepp. “Specifically, we request that you enforce the Clean Air Act as it relates to this facility to the fullest extent of the law. It is critical that you direct Region 5 to determine the sources of these emissions and if Watco can eliminate the manganese dust emissions.

The latest publicly available test results released by the EPA in December found that Watco was releasing levels of manganese that were nearly five times higher than federal safety limits, yet the EPA has so far failed to hold the company accountable even though it has acknowledged Watco is in violation of the Clean Air Act and the City of Chicago has fined Watco for failing to control manganese emissions. In their letter to the EPA, the Members of Congress raised concerns that agency is severely understaffed and under-resourced, considering EPA’s enforcement actions under the Clean Air Act declined by 40% from fiscal year 2017 to 2018 and dropped to their lowest levels in more than ten years.

“These disturbing numbers are occurring despite the company’s claims that it is controlling its dust,” Duckworth and Kelly continued. “We urge you to move forward with enforcement and work with a third-party engineering firm that can be trusted. Doing so will ensure that, despite this Administration’s record on enforcement, our constituents can rest assured that a broader agenda is not impacting and influencing action at this facility.”

Duckworth, Durbin and Kelly have been vocal critics of the Trump Administration’s failures to protect families from toxic chemicals and hold polluters accountable. Last month, Duckworth and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) urged the EPA to hold Watco accountable for violating federal safety standards due to its high levels of manganese emissions. Along with Kelly, the three urged the Administration to use its full authority under the Clean Air Act to protect Chicago families after air monitors first recorded dangerous levels of brain-damaging manganese at Watco in December. In May, 2018, Durbin, Duckworth, and Kelly also wrote to then-EPA Administrator Pruitt about the agency’s failure to consistently hold facilities accountable for dangerous emissions of manganese.

A full copy of the letter sent to Administrator Stepp is available online here.