OIG Follow-Up Finds That the Chicago Department of Public Health Has Corrected Gaps in the City’s Air Pollution Permit and Inspections Program

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 changes, substantially implemented 2, and partially implemented 2 of the recommended corrective actions that will help to mitigate risks of excessive emissions that harm the public and the environment.

The 2019 audit determined that due to insufficient staffing and a lack of written guidance on how to prioritize the highest-risk facilities for inspection, CDPH met its internally set goals for air-quality inspections less than half of the time between 2015 and 2017. Infrequent inspections reduce incentives for permitholders to renew their annual certificates of operation because violations are more likely to go undiscovered. However, OIG did find that CDPH responded relatively quickly to air-quality complaints within a 24-hour period.

OIG made several suggestions to strengthen CDPH’s permit and inspection program, including: developing inspection priorities and goals based on public health data, violation patterns, and inspection practices; drafting and adopting an inspection manual; filling vacant positions; and having a thorough enforcement system that takes full advantage of currently available data to ensure facilities renew their certificates on time.

Based on the follow-up responses, OIG concludes that the Department has implemented corrective actions for most of the issues raised in the audit. CDPH has already begun conducting a comprehensive review of its permit data and removed inactive records; developed an inspection priority index and dashboard to track progress towards these priorities; made changes to the City’s Data Portal to include all appropriate permit, inspection, and complaint records; and updated departmental policies and training to staff.

“It is essential to the public health and safety mission of the Chicago the Department of Public Health that it prioritize adherence to proper procedures and policies by developing and implementing adequate training, and enforcing certifications,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “The corrective changes CDPH has put into action, along with other necessary changes, will help the Department meet its internally set goals concerning the frequency of air-quality inspections, as well as concerns regarding permitholders and violations. OIG commends the Department’s commitment to improvement, and we look forward to seeing the remaining recommendations fully implemented in the near future, to include the filling of vacant positions and the implementation of an updated Inspection Manual.”

The full report can be found at OIG’s website: bit.ly/CDPHPollutionFollowUp.

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The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.