Chicago Department of Public Health Air Pollution Enforcement Follow-Up

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed a follow-up to its September 2019 audit of the Chicago Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) Air Pollution Enforcement. Based on the Department’s responses, OIG concludes that CDPH has fully implemented 10 out of 14 corrective actions, substantially implemented 2, and partially implemented 2.

The purpose of the 2019 audit was to determine if CDPH met its air quality inspection frequency goals, ensured that applicable facilities maintained a valid Certificate of Operations (COO), responded to air-quality complaints within 24 hours, and maintained complete and accurate records on the City’s Data Portal. Our audit found that the Department was not meeting its internal goals for air-quality inspection frequency, was not consistently categorizing facilities based on their potential to emit pollution, and was not ensuring that facilities annually renew their required COO. We also determined that the Department did not ensure that violations identified by inspectors were resolved. Taken together, these performance issues increased the risk of excessive emissions that harm public health and the environment.

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

Based on the results of the audit, OIG made a number of recommendations to help CDPH strengthen its permit and inspection program to ensure that permitted facilities are operating in accordance with the Municipal Code of Chicago and minimizing air pollution, and that permit and inspection data is accurately provided to the public via the Data Portal. In its response to the audit, CDPH described corrective actions it would take.

In September 2020, OIG inquired about the status of corrective actions taken by CDPH in response to the audit. Based on CDPH’s follow-up response, OIG concludes that the Department has fully implemented corrective actions for most of the issues raised in the audit. Specifically, CDPH,

• conducted a comprehensive review of its permit data and removed inactive records;
• developed an inspection priority index and dashboard to track progress towards these priorities. The priority index is based on factors such as a facility’s history of COO compliance, emission level potential, and the pollution burden of the nearby community;
• is working towards filling vacant inspection positions and stated that it will engage with a consultant to help determine appropriate staffing levels;
• changed the date of COO renewal for all facilities to January 1, developed a dashboard that tracks the COO status of permitted facilities, and sends monthly notices to facilities whose renewals are overdue;
• made changes to the City’s Data Portal to include all appropriate permit, inspection, and complaint records; and
• updated its policies and trained staff to address several issues, including supervisory review of potentially closed facilities and standards for when an inspector should issue and follow-up on an inspection warning.

We urge CDPH to continue working towards developing inspection frequency goals for all permitted facilities based on the inspection priorities it has developed, issuing refunds to permit holders who overpaid for their annual COO, and updating its Inspection Manual to reflect the many policy changes the Department has made. Below, we summarize our six audit findings and recommendations, as well as the Department’s response to our follow-up.