Calls for cleaner air in Union Station

February 6, 2012

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(WBEZ/Jennifer Brandel)
Exhaust from an Amtrak train rises above the engine area on a track at Chicago's Union Station.

Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is calling for better air quality in Chicago's Union Station. In 2010 the Chicago Tribune found high levels of diesel soot and air pollution on platforms and in train cars at Union Station. 

Joel Africk with the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago said it's a serious problem.

"The diesel exhaust we're talking about contains 40 chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer. Diesel exhaust pollution causes asthma attacks, it causes heart attacks," Africk said.

Federal agencies along with Metra and Amtrak did their own study and instituted some changes in response. One result was Metra installing filters to each train car which it says reduces pollution inside cars by 75 percent on average.

But Durbin said the ventilation system in an adjacent building isn't working and is causing exhaust to back up in the station. Durbin sent a letter to the owners of the old Post Office on Monday asking them to fix their system. Amtrak filed a complaint in court last week asking the same. 

At the press conference Monday, the company that owns the old Post Office delivered a written statement that said they're sending three of their extractor fans in for repairs this week.

When news of this new statement reached Durbin, he said, "I'm glad to see that they're here - welcome. And I didn't have to serve a subpoena to bring them."

The following video shows exhaust in the area of Union Station that sits directly below the Post Office building. You can see the exhaust by looking just below the lights on the ceiling.