Recently the McKinley Park News published a post titled “Neighbors, Environmental Group Tour Asphalt Plant.” After careful review we have concluded this post is biased, inaccurate, and irresponsible. It downplays serious concerns expressed by hundreds of local residents over the last 18 months. It contains what we believe is misinformation, and does not attempt to present a balanced perspective to our community.
These are our key concerns:
- MAT Asphalt is a sponsor of McKinley Park News. This blatant conflict of interest is not disclosed until the end of the article, and is made worse by the lack of an independent editor. Mr Kerr acts as author, editor, publisher, and ad salesman in one.
- Every quote solicited for this piece appears to be from a paid employee or the owner of the plant. There are zero quotes included from independent community members (i.e., not involved with MAT Asphalt or N4EJ), and no evidence that any community voices were sought for inclusion.
- The post ignores basic questions, like, “Are residents of McKinley Park smelling nuisance odors of asphalt in the mornings since the plant has opened?” and “Are existing laws being enforced?
- N4EJ is discussed extensively, but was not contacted for comment. All comments represented as coming from N4EJ were taken from public statements. A statement from the President of N4EJ was obtained from an unrelated email without indication that it was for use in a future post.
- Statements from the plant owner appear to be reported as fact. For example, when Mr. Tadin asserts that the illegal dumping at an address MAT Asphalt has used is unrelated to him or his company, it is not challenged or verified, only quoted. Further explanation or context of the incident is not provided.
Perhaps most troubling, the post includes a section called “Bad Reports” which strongly suggests that people are intentionally filing false odor complaints. A handful of complaints from community members may have been made when the plant was not operating, or made when the plant was not actively producing asphalt but only dispensing it into dump trucks. Sadly, MAT is not the only polluter in the South West Industrial Corridor, and it is not always easy from the smell alone to determine who is responsible. We believe in those instances that effective environmental enforcement – or effective journalism – would try to determine the true source of the odor, instead of dismissing the complaints.
Instead, the McKinley Park News implies that the complaints were not in good faith. The post does not address the many complaints that took place when the plant was confirmed by the IEPA to be operating, or was photographed and videotaped polluting the air. We would have gladly provided this information to Mr. Kerr if he had chosen to seek comment from N4EJ.
Remarkably, the post cites documents that we obtained by FOIA of a dismissive investigator blowing off public complaints, and a complaint verified by the Department of Public Health. We are astonished that the McKinley Park News examined these documents and concluded that the problem is not lax enforcement, but instead residents reporting their experiences to our government.
In the end, MAT Asphalt’s owner Michael Tadin is quoted saying that despite the odor complaints, which he dismisses as “bogus,” they are open and responsive to the community. It is unclear what it means to be open and responsive while dismissing people’s complaints.
Serious investigations by The Tribune, the Better Government Association, and Block Club Chicago all found real cause for concern both in negative impacts this plant has on our community and the flawed process that allowed it to happen, with government failures at every step of the way. Overall we view this piece as sponsored content, rather than serious reporting.
For more, you can read N4EJ’s initial reaction to the “Open House” in our newsletter archive.