Long a concern among residents, air quality around the Church Street Waste Transfer Station will be the focus of a six-month City air quality study to determine whether the facility is a potential source of contaminants.

Crews from RHP Risk Management and WindSoleil were scheduled this week to install the four air-monitoring stations around the waste transfer station operated by Advanced Disposal at 1711 Church St. Another station will be installed outside the target area at Twiggs Park, at 2124 Darrow Ave.

The monitoring stations, Space Age in appearance, are equipped with special sensors that measure more than a dozen air pollutants of interest, officials said.

The City hopes to use the data to determine the presence of any contaminants and, if so, whether they have a specific place of origin, such as the waste station.

“This moment has been waiting for a long time,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, at a community meeting at Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center May 2, kicking off the project.

First established as a waste-station site in 1984, the transfer facility accepts waste from Advanced Disposal and other private garbage collection companies, much of it construction and demolition debris, the City says, collected from businesses in Evanston and other communities.

From there, the waste is loaded onto larger trucks and transferred to outside landfills.

Residents in the area, some of whom live in a residential complex just doors away from the station, have long complained about odors coming from the faculty as well as constant truck traffic and noise.

The study represents the first attempt to categorize and understand the air quality within a specific area of Evanston, officials said, and to identify the sources of potential contaminants.

In addition to the study, RHP officials are to conduct a 30-day traffic evaluation, looking at how traffic patterns in and around the facility may affect air quality in the area.

At the community meeting, representatives of the City and RHP walked community members through the details of the $230,000 project and also told them what to expect as well as what not to expect under the scope of the study.

City officials had initially sought as many as a dozen monitoring stations be used in the study but eventually pared that number to four because of the cost, said Kumar Jensen, the City’s Sustainability Coordinator.

Jacob Persky, a principal and co-founder of RHP, told residents that while more data points allow for greater analysis, it was agreed that four monitoring stations was the minimum number of sensors the group needed to meet study objectives.

RHP representatives said the study should provide data indicating whether neighborhood-level concentrations of pollutants are significantly higher than those measured at Twiggs Park, the control site.

In addition, further analysis of the air pollution data upwind and downwind should tell them officials whether activities at the transfer station are the source, officials said.

(For up-to-date information about the study, visit cityofevanston.org/transfer station. The data analysis completed by RHP on collected air quality can be viewed at evanstonair.info.)

On the other hand, the data collected with the four monitoring stations will not be sufficient to determine whether the local air quality is in compliance with the federal EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality standards, the RHP team said.

The federal test cost $15,000 to $50,000 per parameter (pollutant studied) compared to $100 to $2,500 per parameter under the study the City is using.

Nor will the data determine whether the waste transfer station is in compliance or in violation with the station’s operating permit, RHP team members said in their presentation.

Nevertheless, Mr. Persky called the testing “an important first step” because it will allow the testing agency “to hone in on which of these host of parameters we thought are indicators of site influence.”

Dr. Serap Erdal, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a scientific advisor to the team, said it is important the public understand that the study technically “is a screening study.” Researchers should “get to find out the difference in air quality in those four monitoring stations compared with the background at Twiggs Park. That’s all, and that’s not nothing, and it could lead to some really important questions to ask,” she said.

During discussion, Carlis Sutton, a longtime resident in the area, expressed concern the initial study was not in line with the federal EPA standards.

Cindy Levitt, another resident living near the waste transfer station, questioned what happens after test results are in. “How do we then take that data and make sure that it is safe for people to breathe within a certain proximity — to compare it to national EPA data or even Cook County data?” she asked.

At the meeting, Mr. Jensen noted that funds for the study come from the $1.2 million the City received in an Advanced Disposal lawsuit settlement in March 2016.

The company brought the lawsuit against the City initially, charging Evanston was seeking to close the facility down, institute higher fees and other moves.

In addition to the money for the air study, the City is putting those funds to other uses, including alley improvements in the area, said Mr. Jensen and Ald. Braithwaite.

The settlement agreement also called for Advance Proposal to pay a 75-cents-per-ton fee, vs. $2 a ton before the settlement.

“So that is a future revenue stream that can be used for a variety of things “Mr. Jensen said. “This [a follow up to the study] is certainly going to be one of them.”

Residents at the meeting called for the City to pay attention to other waste-station activities, calling for a full investigation of a fire that broke out at the facility March 26 about which they had little information.

Flames from the fire “were coming from the east right over our houses,” Mr. Sutton said at the meeting.

Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, co-hosting the meeting, assured neighbors she would obtain an incident report for them.

Jerri Garl, a representative of Environmental Justice Evanston, a working committee, subcommittee of the Citizens’ Greener Evanston, also passed out petitions calling for a full investigation and public disclosure of the fire as well as other measures of greater scrutiny of the facility.

These included requiring station officials to install an air-monitoring system of their own and alarm system to alert residents of pollutants released into neighborhoods.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.