Pilsen Clean Air is a campaign dealing with issues of airborne pollution, particularly as they relate to lead and particulate matter from coal burning, and their consequences to people’s health.
Increased environmental awareness has not mitigated the plight of communities dealing with the immediate consequences of pollution. Pilsen residents have multiple reasons to be very concerned, particularly since some of Chicago’s worst polluters continue to release toxic emissions in the midst of the neighborhood, both for lead and fine coal soot.
Fisk, one of the last two remaining coal-fueled energy plants in Chicago is in Pilsen; the second, Crawford, is only a few miles west. Gas emissions from these plants are major contributors to global warming and respiratory illnesses. Fisk and Crawford are owned by Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of California-based Edison International, a mega energy company. Midwest Generation is bound to clean up on emissions at its plants, but it seems most likely that the company will make money and buy time until they are forced to retire the plants, the farther in the future the better.
Lead is another pollutant affecting Pilsen. Old neighborhoods such as this have battled lead-based paint in homes for years. However, revelations in 2011 that Pilsen’s air was also polluted with lead have given new urgency to finding comprehensive and decisive solutions to the problem. One of Chicago’s top emitters of lead releases is in Pilsen. H. Kramer & Co. has been smelting metal and releasing fumes in Pilsen since 1882. Kramer is also only blocks away from two elementary schools and one high school from were the high readings were recorded.
Clean Power Chicago
Pilsen Alliance is part of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, the group behind the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance. Our organization’s immediate objective is to help ensure the passage of this municipal law. The ordinance would require polluters such as Fisk and Crawford to either clean up or shut down, and it was reintroduced in July of 2011 with the support of 34 aldermen. In addition to the ordinance, we are proposing a Community Benefits Agreement with the company to help remediate some of the damage and compensate the community for the consequences. Along with the CCPC, we are hoping to contribute what we know to expanding the campaign to national targets associated to the local polluter’s mother company.
Members of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition include Sierra Club, Greenpeace, SEIU Doctor’s Council, the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, and other groups.
Lead Free Air
In June of 2011 Pilsen became officially in violation of the current limits of lead content in the air. This denomination resulted from a year of air monitoring by the Environmental Protection Agency. The numbers showed that lead in Pilsen’s air is above federal standards most of the year, occasionally up to 10 times above federal limit. The main objective of this campaign is to bring Pilsen below the federal standard for lead by the end of 2012.
The consequences of lead contamination to people's health have been well established, which is why the federal government sets standards. Lead is particularly dangerous to young children, affecting the development of their organs and causing irreparable damage to their ability to learn.
H. Kramer & Co. has been amply identified as the main source of lead emissions in Pilsen, but they continue to operate. In May and again in June, Pilsen Alliance held meetings with authorities at different levels of government, including lawyers with the Department of Justice, to demand immediate action against Kramer. Citing ongoing negotiations at the time, authorities refused to sue the company.
Finally, in September, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against Kramer. Madigan's office also sought an injunction, to which Kramer responded making important concessions. The action is a step forward, but it allows Kramer to continue to operate before positively identifying the problem, falling short of the immediate solution the situation demands.
Pilsen Alliance members continue to follow developments closely. December is the deadline for the completion of some key cleanup benchmark. Neighbors continue to weigh all options, including further legal actions.