Residents gather around one of the monitoring sites near Twiggs Park where data was collected last year in the City’s first comprehensive air quality study.

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Evanston’s first comprehensive air quality study has pinpointed some elevated pollutant counts in areas around the Church Street waste transfer station, which has been the source of residents’ complaints for years. Advanced Disposal is the current owner of the station, replacing Veolia, the company that brought a lawsuit against the City in 2020, charging Evanston was trying to force them out of the site. A waste station has been at that location since 1984 when the operators were granted permits from the Environmental Protection Agency.

But to determine whether those sites are indeed “hot spots” and a result of the station’s garbage hauling operations, officials will likely have to reach out to County, State and federal agencies in their next step.

The City released this week the results of a six-month long air monitoring assessment study that collected nearly 12 billion data points at monitoring stations set up around the waste transfer station at 1711 Church St.

Residents living in the area have complained for years about odors and noise emanating from the faculty, where trucks move in and out, handling municipal and construction and demolition waste.

In 2019, the City hired RHP Risk Management Inc. (RHP) to conduct the $230,000 study, which included setting up air monitoring stations at four sites in and around the Church Street waste station.

A fifth station was set up outside the target area, near Twiggs Park, as a control site so officials could compare results there to those collected from around the waste facilities.

Some of the study’s findings include

  • A “statistically significant difference” between the pollutants measured at the four stations within the waste station area, compared to the those measured at the control station, which is located outside. This “statistically significant difference” was identified for all parameters, or pollutants, with one exception.

  • Significantly higher counts for nitric oxide at two of the sites and for formaldehyde at all four stations. Formaldehyde has been classified as a carcinogenic to humans since 2004 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the study noted,  and nitric oxide as a respiratory irritant.

  • A “statistically significant difference between the measured ambient air concentrations across operational hours at the waste station and those measured during non-operational hours.”

  • A statistically significant difference between the ambient air pollution distributions “downwind” and “not downwind” during normal business hours for all parameters except for hydrogen sulfide.”

(The entire study is available at cityofevanston.org.)

In a memo, Kumar Jensen, the City’s Chief Sustainability and Resilience Officer Ashley Mcilwee, Senior Environmental Health Practitioner, noted that the consultant’s recommendations “do not make definitive statements about the overall air quality in the vicinity around the waste transfer station.”

Rather, “they indicate that in order to make comparisons between the collected data and federal standards such as the U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) [it] would require a longer term study and a different methodology than what was used.” Further, the consultant’s findings support a correlation between some parameters and the waste transfer station, not all parameters,” they said.

On the other hand, “the study results do indicate that Tier 1 parameters (formaldehyde and nitric oxide), should be studied further,” as should some other pollutants that tracked higher.

The officials said the City’s next steps include reaching out to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and any other relevant officials, believing that “any future project work related to air quality be done in partnership or with guidance from county, state or federal agencies with technical knowledge and expertise in air quality monitoring.”

Environmental Justice Evanston, one of the driving forces behind the study, is also expected to be involved.

Mr. Jensen has discussed holding a virtual community meeting to discuss the findings, reported EJE member Jerri Garl, and in the meantime has offered to meet ahead of time with community members who had served as advisors to the study, including members of Environmental Justice Evanston, she said.

“EJE will be meeting early next week to go over the report in detail and prepare questions for further discussion,” she said.

Cindy Levitt, whose Church Street Village complex is just down the street from the waste station, said she plans to be involved, too.

“I’m happy that it’s [the report] is finally out there – it’s been a long time coming,” said Ms. Levitt. “But we definitely need help in understanding what the outcome means in terms of our community living next door to it.”

“I still don’t know if the air I’m breathing is not toxic,” she said. “It’s the same question I had 11 or 12 years ago: Is it safe to be outside and have my windows open?“