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Old Chicago post office owners faulted bad air on trains

Metra CEO Alex Clifford joins U.S. Senator Dick Durbin at a news conference to discuss the status of ongoing efforts to lower the level of air pollution in commuter rail cars and on train platforms at Union Station, 210 S. Canal. Monday, February 6, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Efforts to tackle dangerous pollution that threatens the health of commuters at Amtrak’s Union Station are being delayed by the foot-dragging British owner of the neighboring Old Post Office building, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin alleged Monday.

But International Property Developers – the British firm that owns the giant, long-empty post office just South of Union Station – says it’s already fixing the problem.

A high level of air pollution caused by sooty diesel train exhausts was discovered in commuter rail cars and on train platforms at the station in a 2010 report.

Amtrak, Metra and several federal agencies have been working to fix the problem ever since, Durbin said. But I.P.D. chairman Bill Davies “hasn’t taken care of” broken ventilation fans designed to suck the dirty air out of the train tunnel under the post office building, Durbin said.

Though other neighbors quickly stepped up to help, Durbin said, Amtrak filed a federal lawsuit against I.P.D. on Friday, alleging I.P.D. has violated city building codes.

An agreement signed in 1931 required the post office’s owners to maintain the extractor fans that protect the air quality in the station, but half of the fans no longer work despite repeated meetings between Amtrak and I.P.D., the suit alleges.

I.P.D. released a statement Monday, saying that only three of 11 fans are not working and that they are being sent “for repairs this week . . . even though we are still awaiting planning approval from the city.”