MAT Asphalt is a hot mix asphalt plant in the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago. It’s next to a school, across the street from a 69 acre park, and less than 1000 feet from the nearest homes. The plant’s construction permit expired in July of 2019, but the Illinois EPA (IEPA) has chosen to allow them to keep operating anyway while they are considered for a long term permit – despite the evidence that air pollution makes COVID-19 worse.
Residents have filed hundreds of complaints with 311, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), and the IEPA. The plant has been cited more than half a dozen times in 2020, for air pollution, failure to control windborne material, and operating equipment without a permit. After the Department of Housing decided not to build affordable housing in McKinley Park, citing health concerns about being close to the plant, the city said they are evaluating plans to move MAT Asphalt.
But despite Mayor Lightfoot citing MAT’s construction as an example of bad process, the plant still runs mainly on city contracts – filtered through sister companies like MAT Leasing and MAT Construction. The latest contract, awarded under Mayor Lightfoot, is for at least $15 million in asphalt.
In March of 2018, residents of McKinley Park learned that a new hot-mix asphalt plant, MAT Asphalt, had been built across the street from the park. As the satellite photo shows, the plant is less than 1000 feet from schools and homes. It’s owned by Michael A Tadin Jr, a city contractor whose father Michael Tadin Sr was prominent in the Hired Trucking scandal under Mayor Daley.
There were zero public meetings or public notice of any kind from any of our elected officials or regulatory agencies: not our alderman, not the Illinois EPA, not the Chicago Department of Public Health.
A satellite photo of MAT Asphalt shows how close it is to homes and schools. (Google Maps)
MAT Asphalt is in the 12th ward. City emails show 12th ward Alderman George Cardenas was an early supporter of the project. At the time he chaired the Health and Environmental Protection Committee (now the “Committee on Environment and Energy”). Cardenas received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the owners of the plant, their connected companies and business partners. He never warned his constituents or asked for public input, and he later denied knowing about it, despite helping to rezone an adjacent property to make it possible. In the face of a growing outcry from his constituents, Cardenas has continued to argue that the plant cannot be moved or shut down, and posted a pro-asphalt FAQ on the 12th Ward website plagiarized from industry sources.
Now let’s talk about the IEPA. Internal emails show the Illinois EPA “dropped the ball” on the Environmental Justice Review process that was supposed to happen before the plant was built.
The construction permit issued by the IEPA allowed MAT Asphalt to operate for one year from the date of initial startup: July 2nd, 2018. As expected, MAT applied for a long term permit. In February 2019, their application was initially rejected as incomplete because they had failed to include all of their sources of pollution, and if properly counted, the plant would qualify as a major source of pollution, requiring it to be regulated by the federal EPA. The same Notice of Incompleteness also observes that plant operators had installed additional equipment without seeking permits (they were later cited for this by the city).
MAT Asphalt responded that they had simply miscalculated. The IEPA allowed them to revise their numbers and resubmit their application. In July 2019 their one year construction permit expired; the IEPA chose to let them keep operating.
In the meantime, residents were filing complaints with the IEPA and the Chicago Department of Public Health about the foul odors, the giant plumes of smoke, and the constant flow of trucks through neighborhood streets.
The fumes emitting from the asphalt plant have been extraordinarily strong today. It was difficult for me to walk from my car to inside our building without being physically affected by those fumes. I also learned later that my maintenance team had no choice, but to turn off the air conditioning system, because the fumes from the outside were so strong that they were affecting students and those inside the building.
Complaint from National Latino Education Institute, 2019 Aug 29IEPA investigators dismissed the complaints as being “filed for fun,” while Chicago Department of Public Health inspectors conducted most inspections in the afternoon after the plant was done operating. At no point did any regulatory agency actually measure the emissions of the plant to see if they were complying with their permit. Of the six types of pollution restricted in their (expired) permit, four have still never been measured by anyone.