Tri-Taylor group against gas station at Acme Barrel site
September 6, 2019

By Andrew Adams

Thorntons LLC, a subsidiary of BP and ArcLight Capital Partners, plans to build a gasoline station at the former site of Acme Barrel Inc. Many neighbors, led by the Tri-Taylor Community Association (TTCA), oppose the idea.

Thorntons wants to build on a plot of land bounded by Ogden Avenue, 13th Street, and Oakley Boulevard. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the location as a superfund site, meaning hazardous waste had contaminated it.

Acme Barrel closed 16 years ago, but lawsuits continued for years after. In 2018, Acme Barrel settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit with more than 70 neighbors and workers who cited health concerns.

On July 24, 28th Ward Alderman James Ervin, several community members, and TTCA filed a lawsuit to stop construction. A Cook County judge will hear the case on November 21.

About 30 people attended a protest at the site on August 13, led by the TTCA. Susan Tyson, TTCA communications director and a member of the organization’s board, said concerning the gas station that TTCA is “opposed to it on the basis of health and safety, increased traffic, and crime.” 

Remediation efforts

Since Acme Barrel’s closure, the site has seen several remediation attempts by the U.S. EPA, Illinois EPA, and City of Chicago.

Acme Barrel Co. recycled steel drums, which involved using several dangerous chemicals to clean the barrels. It released some of these chemicals into the soil and air surrounding the plant.

According to an Illinois EPA representative, workers have removed more than “1,200 tons of PCB impacted soil” from the site in addition to more than “10,000 tons of petroleum impacted soil.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, PCBs are a probable human carcinogen with adverse health effects related to the human liver. 

According to documentation from the Illinois EPA and its representative, the site currently is safe for industrial and commercial use, so long as any construction or excavation follows strict guidelines set by the EPA. These restrictions include building barriers between the development and city water supplies and not permanently moving any ground deeper than three feet. 

Neighbors are not so sure, however. In March, more than 50 residents met with Thorntons representatives and Ervin.

Concern for children

Later that month, Ervin and several other community members testified before the Zoning Board of Appeals. According to TTCA, when a representative from Thorntons offered to decrease the number of diesel pumps and replace them with greenspace in the site plan, Ervin said, “I don’t think I would put my three-year-old daughter in the back to play on the grass at that site after all these years of contamination and the like.” 

Ervin testified that developer Michael Northman originally had offered a different plan for the land. “When this was initially proposed to the residents of the community, a gas station was not one of the uses that was given to the residents,” Ervin said, noting that the first plans “talked about a small grocer, office use, something that did not generate nearly as much traffic as we would see here and would bring something of considerable value to the community.”

TTCA members also raised concern that the gas station will bring crime and traffic. According to FBI crime statistics, robberies at gas stations have been on the increase since 2016, with gas or service stations representing roughly three percent of all robberies. 

Oakley Boulevard resident Erika Castillo and her husband, Daniel Cedillo, said they worry about disturbing the ground and potentially poisoning the groundwater again by burying gasoline storage tanks.

“We have a baby, and we’re just starting our family,” Castillo said. “We don’t want to risk their health and safety with yet another health and environmental hazard. Besides, we already have four gas stations within a two-minute drive of our homes. Adding another is just going too far.”

“This is definitely going to bring the property value down” of nearby homes, “no doubt in my mind,” said resident Adele Benes. Homes sit close to the site on Oakley Boulevard, Heath Avenue, Claremont Street, and 13th Street.

Ervin said the developer’s “balance sheet does not need to be balanced on the backs of these residents in this area that have been enduring this environmental injustice for a number of years.”

According to TTCA, National Institutes of Health studies show that, despite all the modern health and safety guidelines they must follow, gas stations still can pose environmental hazards including ground-level ozone caused by gasoline fumes and groundwater hazards from petroleum products leaking into the ground.

Northman and Thorntons could not be reached for comment.

To contact Ervin, call (773) 533-0900. For Northman, call (847) 239-7500. For Thorntons, log on to www.thorntonsinc.com. To contact TTCA, call (312) 848-5518.