Waste Transfer Station study recommends prioritizing formaldehyde and nitric oxide in future work


Daily file photo by Daniel Tan

The 2nd Ward. The city hosted its final community meeting regarding the study of the Church Street Waste Transfer Station located in the 2nd and 5th Wards.

Emma Edmund, Summer Editor

A six-month air quality study recommends prioritizing future work regarding the Church Street Waste Transfer Station around formaldehyde and nitric oxide. 

On Tuesday, the city and RHP Risk Management, the company that conducted the study, held the final community meeting around the study of the station, 1711 Church St., which is owned and operated by Advanced Disposal. 

Before the study began, residents had raised concerns about strong smells and loud noises, among other issues, coming from the station. A 2016 survey showed over 50 percent of respondents expressed concerns about air quality and exposure to toxic or hazardous chemicals. 

The study was conducted from May 17, 2019, to Nov.20, 2019, and was intended solely to determine whether there were measurable amounts of certain pollutants and whether those pollutants could be traced to the waste transfer station as a source. The study was explicitly not designed to determine if any public health risks exist as a result of the station. Evanston’s Chief Sustainability and Resiliencye Officer Kumar Jensen said that this study can seem frustrating because even with the large amounts of information, they aren’t able to say much definitively regarding human health.

“We’ve done an ambient air quality study that was specifically focused on trying to answer pretty much one question, which is of these pollutants, which of their presence can be tied to or attributed to the operations of the station, not at all their impact on public health or their overall levels,” Jensen said. “But we also have to recognize that the study costs a lot of money, and we already pared it down pretty substantially from what the original proposal was to try to get it to a number where we could have something at all.”  

Monitoring instruments were placed at sites surrounding the station, and the study measured 12 pollutants, including carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. The pollutants were then divided into three tiers ranked in order of prioritization for future work. Formaldehyde and nitric oxide were placed in the Ffirst Ttieras the top priorities for any future work in the area, while pollutants such as ozone and hydrogen sulfide were recommended to be deprioritized. 

The study also did not assess if the local air quality was in compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards due to the equipment and data analysis methods used, nor whether the station is in compliance with its operating permit. 

Some meeting attendees were concerned with the station’s close proximity to a Tapecoat facility and a bus barn, since both could potentially contribute to the pollutant readings. Serap Erdal, a senior adviser to the study and an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, said conducting studies in urban areas presents these types of problems.

“In rural environments, if you have one source in the community, it’s easier to tease out what the impact of that source is on the community,” Erdal said. “Here we have a number of industrial and non-industrial air pollution sources in close proximity. On top of it, we have urban activity traffic, and all of these are confounding factors.”

The pollutants were evaluated through six lenses, including a comparison of the measures at the station site to the control site near Twiggs Park and the comparison of measures during the station’s operating hours to non-operating hours. These lenses intended to provide as much information to determine which pollutants, if any, could be traced back to the transfer station. 

Jacob Persky, the project lead and co-founder of RHP Risk Management, emphasized that the group collected 112 million data points, so that additional testing is not the top priority. Instead, he said the next steps should involve using the existing data to answer questions arising from the study.

“We’ve identified the priority pollutants,” Persky said. “What we believe the next steps should involve is validation of this data set… so that the data can be used in human health risk assessment. What this (study) does for us is help inform our priorities for mitigation measures.”

Jensen said the city’s next steps include trying to get the state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies involved and to find additional assistance and guidance from experts, given that air quality is typically not regulated at the local level. Given the priority of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, Jensen said the city is also looking into getting a mobile formaldehyde monitor.

The city paid just over $229,000 for the study, which can be viewed on the city’s webpage in addition to a city memo and other documents.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @emmaeedmund

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