What are the sources of air pollution at the University of Chicago?

Air pollutants can be released from a variety of activities including:

  • Combustion of fuel (e.g. natural gas or fuel oil) in boilers, heating equipment, emergency generators, etc;
  • Operation of bulk fuel storage tanks, such as gasoline and diesel;
  • Operation of ethylene oxide sterilizers;
  • Operation of University vehicles;
  • Demolition, repair, or construction of University buildings;
  • Use of volatile materials in laboratories;
  • Dust collection systems and paint booths;
  • Fume hoods;
  • Operation and maintenance of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment; and
  • Accidental release of chemicals.

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Who regulates air pollution at the University of Chicago?

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) has authority to regulate air emissions from the University of Chicago. Under the Clean Air Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency delegates authority for air quality permit programs to state agencies.  The City of Chicago also requires permits and enforces their municipal code.

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How does the University of Chicago comply with air emissions regulations?

The University of Chicago has a Title V Operating Permit with the IEPA Bureau of Air. The permit requires that emissions are calculated and reported on an annual basis for certain sources. The permit also keeps track of “insignificant sources” for which emission calculations are not required. The University of Chicago reports emissions for the following emission sources:

  • Boilers over 2.5 mmBtu/hour that fire only natural gas, propane, or liquefied petroleum gas;
  • Boilers over 1.0 mmBtu/hour that fire only oil or oil in combination with natural gas, propane, or liquefied petroleum gas;
  • Storage tanks of organic liquids (e.g. gasoline) over 10,000 gallons in capacity; and
  • Stationary internal combustion engines (e.g. emergency generators) over 1118 kW (1500 horsepower)

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Do laboratory fume hoods count as an emission source?

Yes and no. Laboratory fume hoods are a source of air emissions and the presence of fume hoods as a group is required to be listed on the permit as a facility-wide activity. However, fume hoods do not need to be individually listed on the University’s Air Permit, nor are emissions calculated. Emissions from fume hoods are considered an “insignificant activity” under Title 35 Section 201.210(b)(11) of the Illinois Administrative Code. 

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Does the University of Chicago recycle?

The University of Chicago recycles general waste through an outside contractor including glass, aluminum, paper, plastic, and cardboard. Some of the waste is separated directly on campus through the City of Chicago recycling program. Otherwise, the general waste contractor separates everything at their facility.

The University also recycles fluorescent lamps and bulbs, batteries, ballasts, motor oil (5W30 and 10W30), rubber tires, and antifreeze.

In addition to general waste, the University also generates large quantities of hazardous and non-hazardous chemical wastes.  These wastes are disposed of following regulatory requirements using a variety of disposal methods including recycling, waste-to-energy, fuel-blending, stabilization and treatment, and incineration.  Direct to landfill disposal is not permitted unless there is no viable alternate disposal method.

The University has a computer recycling program free to all departments or a flat charge for the disposal of personal equipment. Functional or broken computers, laptops, monitors, keyboards, modems, printers, or scanners can be recycled as part of this program. The University refurbishes functional computers donates them to local schools and disposes of non-working machines in an environmentally friendly manner, rather than just dumping them in a landfill.

The University also utilized the Rheaply marketplace to allow students and employees to share donate and browse supplies and equipment including furniture and lab equipment.  For more information regarding the Rheaply marketplace contact the Office of Research Safety.

All building materials generated by demolition are also recycled and follow the strict guidelines furnished by the City of Chicago.

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What storage tanks does the University of Chicago have?

The University of Chicago has both underground storage tanks (USTs) and aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) that are used to store a variety of materials including gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, and hydraulic oil.

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What regulations apply to storage tanks?

The University is required to create and maintain a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) Plan for oil tanks exceeding 54 gallons. SPCC Plans are mandated by the USEPA under the Clean Water Act. An SPCC Plan addresses operating procedures that prevent oil spills, control measures to prevent spills from reaching navigable waters of the United States, training for oil handling personnel, and inspections of tanks. For more information on SPCC, see the online policy.

The University’s vehicle fueling tanks are also subject to regulations through the Illinois Office of the State Fire Marshal. The gasoline UST and diesel UST are connected to a continuous leak detection monitoring device. The tanks must undergo a physical internal inspection every 5 years. In addition, a 3rd party contractor performs a precision line test on the underground piping on each tank on an annual basis.

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What happens if an abandoned tank is discovered during excavation activities?

Occasionally, excavation work during construction or renovation reveals an abandoned underground storage tank in the soil. When this happens, excavation work immediately stops and the project manager notifies Environmental Health and Safety. EHS coordinates removal of the tank with the City of Chicago Department of Environment, and the Office of the State Fire Marshal. In the event that soil surrounding the tank is impacted by the contents of the tank, the soil is sampled and compared to applicable IEPA soil quality standards. If necessary, soil is removed and taken off-site for treatment and/or disposal.

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Where does water leaving the University of Chicago go?

The City of Chicago manages its water through a combined sewer that handles both sanitary wastewater (from building restrooms, drinking fountains, labs, foodservice areas, etc) and stormwater (water that collects from rain events). Water leaving the University of Chicago from any source flows into the combined sewer system which ultimately leads to one of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s (MWRD) treatment plants.

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Does the City of Chicago monitor the University’s wastewater?

Yes. The University of Chicago pays “user charges” for the water it discharges to MWRD sewers. User charges are based both on quantity and quality. Certain components of the water, including chemical waste or cloudy/turbid water, can increase the amount of user charges that the University must pay. This is why it is critical that laboratories do not dispose of chemical waste down the drain. Instead, labs should collect their waste and dispose of it through the EHS Office.

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How is the University’s incoming water quality?

Drinking water at the University of Chicago, such as at drinking fountains and sinks, is provided by the City of Chicago Department of Water Management. Water is pulled in from Lake Michigan and treated at treatment plants throughout the city before being sent out for distribution. The City of Chicago’s Department of Water Management adheres to water quality standards set by the USEPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act. The City’s Water Quality Report is available online at the Department of Water Management’s website, organized by year.

The University of Chicago’s Environmental Health and Safety Office reviews water sampling requests on a case-by-case basis.  EHS has conducted hundreds of water samples over 20 years and the sampling results demonstrate the water quality meets Safe Drinking Water Act standards. 

Updated: November 2023

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