Chicago Department of Public Health Air Pollution Enforcement Audit

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General has completed an audit assessing how well the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) monitors facilities that pollute the air. Air pollution in the form of soot, microscopic particles, and toxic airborne chemicals causes significant harm to the environment and human health. CDPH’s inspection program plays a critical role in controlling the amount of pollution emitted by factories, dry cleaners, restaurants, and other facilities in Chicago.

We found that the Department is not meeting its internal air-quality inspection frequency goals, is not consistently categorizing facilities based on their potential to emit pollution, and is not ensuring that facilities annually renew their required Certificates of Operation. We also determined that the Department does not ensure that violations identified by inspectors are resolved. Taken together, these gaps increase the risk of excessive emissions that harm public health and the environment.

OIG also found that CDPH resolves 84% of air-quality complaints within 24 hours because it prioritizes responding quickly to complaints. While some of the information on the City’s Data Portal is incomplete, CDPH has created a Lookup Table that is user-friendly and shows multiple environmental records related to a given address.

We make a number of recommendations to strengthen CDPH’s air pollution permit and inspection program. Most urgently, CDPH should develop inspection priorities and goals based on factors such as the proximity of polluting facilities to overburdened communities, public health data, violation patterns, and inspection practices in peer jurisdictions. CDPH should continue working to fill vacant positions, then determine if additional inspectors would be needed to safeguard public health and the environment.

In response to our audit, CDPH stated that it largely agrees with our recommendations and has already begun implementing corrective actions.