Toxic emissions in Chicago’s southwest side

An aerial view of industries and railroads across the southwest side of Chicago

Emissions from TRI facilities

  1. Link to interactive map: Fugitive air emissions are generally defined as unintended or irregular emissions of gases or vapors released through equipment. The EPA distinguishes fugitive air emissions as emissions that “could not be reasonably passed through a stack, chimney, vent, or other functionally equivalent opening.” (Curran, 2018). Fugitive emissions are likely to disperse locally compared to emissions which originate from a smokestack. People living or playing nearby facilities with high fugitive emissions will potentially face health risks depending on the fate and transport properties of the emitted chemical.
  2. Link to interactive map: Stack air emissions from a TRI reporting facility is the total amount of emissions emanating from the smokestacks per year. A dense cluster of TRI facilities resides within the SEA study area. Many of these facilities report emissions that fall within the highest quartile of emissions reported within the city. Stack air emissions can have more unpredictable travel patterns than fugitive emissions and can influence air quality along a wide area.
  3. Link to interactive map: The total air emissions map shows the amount (in pounds) of all toxic releases to air from TRI reporting facilities. The SEA study area has the highest air releases second only to the Southeast side of Chicago industrial area, which is sparsely populated (see Map 5: enlarge and zoom in). The density of sites (i.e., a large number of facilities within a relatively small area) with high reporting emissions adjacent to densly populated areas is unique to the Southwest side. Challenges arise when identifying potential health impacts associated with multiple exposures to different chemicals.
  4. Link to interactive map: The total output includes not only toxic releases to air, but also the total amount of toxic waste transported or treated offsite. The total output number, therefore, does not only reflect the risk associated with the release of chemicals within the area but the traffic load and diesel emissions associated with the transport of the waste product. When factoring in the total output associated with TRI facilities, the Southwest side of Chicago has the highest amount, even more significant than the sparsely populated Southeast side of Chicago near the Port of Lake Calumet. This list, however, is not exhaustive and does not necessarily include every site within the study area that emits hazardous chemicals.
  5. This pie chart highlights the proportion of fugitive emissions by chemical within one mile of the SEA study area. The primary fugitive emissions are glycol ethers, xylene, toluene and trichlorethylene.
  6. The pie chart above highlights the proportion of stack air emissions by chemical within one mile of the SEA study area. The primary stack air emissions are glycol ethers, N-butyl alcohol, and zinc . The EPA has determined both N-butyl alcohol and zinc to be not classifiable as to their carcinogenicity (ATSDR).
  7. This pie chart highlights the proportion of total air emissions by chemical within one mile of the SEA study area. The primary air emissions within the area are glycol ethers, n-butyl alcohol, xylene, toluene, trichlorothylene and methanol.

List of chemicals reported from TRI facilities within SEA study area

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA regulates 187 listed air toxic pollutants. Toxic pollutants highlighted in red were recently identified as of particular interest to EPA investigation.

Data Source: EPA (2020) TRI Basic Plus Database


Certain glycol ethers, chromium, copper, di (2 ethlylhexyl) phthalate, lead, manganese, mercury, methyl isobutylene ketone, nickel, nitrate compounds, phosphorus (yellow or white), tetrachlorethylene, zinc compounds.

Little Village

Certain glycol ethers, toluene, ethylbenzene, n-butyl alcohol, 1,2,3-trimethylbenzene, xylene (mixed isomers), methyl isobutylene, ketone, nitric acid, lead, aluminum (fine or dust), nitrate compounds, sodium nitrite.

New City

4,4′ isopropylidenediphenol, ammonia, certain glycol ethers, chloroacetic acid, chlorobenzene, chromium, copper, dichloromethane, diethanolamine, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, formic acid, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, lead, manganese, methanol, naphthalene, n-butyl alcohol, nickel, nickel compounds, nitric acid, n-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, phenol, sec-butyl alcohol, toluene, xylene (mixed isomers), zinc (fume or dust), zinc compounds.


Methanol, ammonia.

Brighton Park

Certain glycol ethers, chromium compounds, nickel compounds, nitrate compounds, nitric acid, zinc compounds.

Health effects of reported chemicals

Chronic exposures to glycol ethers have been linked to non-cancer effects including fatigue, lethargy, nausea, anorexia, tremor, and anemia. No information currently exists on cancerous effects of glycol ether. (ATSDR)

Toxicological studies investigating the effects of Xylene have not identified health effects associated with persistent low levels of exposure. High levels of short term exposure have been found to cause “irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat; difficulty in breathing; impaired function of the lungs; delayed response to a visual stimulus; impaired memory; stomach discomfort; and possible changes in the liver and kidneys (ATSDR).”

Low to moderate levels of exposure to toluene have been found to have negative impacts on the central nervous system including dysfunction and narcosis. Studies have shown low likelihood that the substance is a carcinogen.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) has been characterized as a known carcinogen to humans by the Environmental Protection Agency, The International Agency for Research on Cancer and The Department of Health and Human Services. The Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has found strong evidence that trichloroethylene (TCE) can cause kidney cancer and some evidence that TCE may cause liver cancer and malignant lymphoma (ATSDR).

While zinc is an essential element of the human diet, ingestion at levels between 10-15 times above the amount needed for health can lead to negative health outcomes. Inhalation of large amounts of zinc has been found to cause metal fume fever and exposure is likely to cause skin irritation at high enough levels.

Report hub: identifying environmental hazards within southwest Chicago