Amid Pandemic, Activists Push to Close McKinley Park Asphalt Plant


Since 2018, residents of McKinley Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side have raised concerns that the MAT Asphalt plant in their neighborhood is spewing pollutants into residential streets and yards. 

Now, several environmental groups say the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue. 

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On May 1, the Southwest Environmental Alliance organized a drive-by protest of the asphalt plant, temporarily blocking trucks from entering or leaving the facility. 

“It’s hard to ignore that there are polluters in our communities operating business as usual in the middle of a respiratory health crisis. Now more than ever we need our lungs to be healthy to fight the virus, but MAT Asphalt still has their doors open, they’re still polluting our air,” said Lauren Gonzalez, a member of the group. 

Interactive: More from our series, COVID-19 Across Chicago.

McKinley Park residents have long complained that they were blindsided by the plant’s opening in 2018, when the company and local officials did not hold public meetings or comment sessions for community input. 

Gonzalez says her organization now hopes to pressure Mayor Lori Lightfoot into shuttering the plant. 

“Part of the city’s COVID response should be shutting down polluters for the sake of our own health, especially as we’ve all seen the data that show that Latinos are the leading group for COVID cases in Illinois. And so our communities do not need this additional burden,” she said. 

MAT Asphalt officials continue to maintain that their plant produces well under the legal threshold of pollution, as monitored by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. 

“This is a state-of-the-art asphalt plant, and has pollution control items that go above and beyond what are allowable emissions for the IEPA,” said Joe Haughey, the plant’s general manager. “The asphalt that we’re producing is only exposed to the atmosphere for about 25 to 30 seconds, that’s when it comes from our silos into the trucks that are going to be hauling it to the job site.” 

But residents have complained that the asphalt sits uncovered in many of those trucks that come in and out of the plant. 

“Right now there are about 200 trucks carrying asphalt and passing through our neighborhoods on a daily basis,” Gonzalez said. “Our residents have high, high rates of asthma, cancer, and heart disease. And we are not OK with them waking up to asphalt fumes on any given morning. And so we’re fighting here to make sure that they are protected.” 


Covid Across Chicago

How is the novel coronavirus impacting local businesses, residents and social service agencies across the city and region? And how are local leaders handling the crisis? We hit the streets to answer those questions and more in our ongoing reporting series, COVID-19 Across Chicago. See where we’ve been and what we’ve discovered in this overview.


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