Pilsen Residents Celebrate Victory Over Lead, But Not End of the Story

Tuesday September 06 2011

Pilsen Lead Polluter Agrees to Improvements; State Listens to Community and Sues Kramer, Seeks Injunction: Neighbors Consider the Actions a Good Step Forward, But Short of Immediate Solution

Responding to mounting scientific evidence and increasing pressure from Pilsen residents, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit Tuesday against H. Kramer & Co., a smelter linked to high levels of lead pollution in Pilsen’s air. Madigan’s office also sought an injunction, to which the company responded Friday making important concessions. The measure is a step forward, but it allows Kramer to continue to operate before positively identifying the problem, falling short of the immediate solution demanded by the situation.

“We are happy the State’s Attorney finally listened to the people who are being harmed by toxic air,” said Rosalie Mancera, a Pilsen Alliance board member. “After much inaction we feel this is a step in the right direction, but Kramer is still operating; they should stop until we are sure that Kramer is not poisoning us anymore.”

Kramer has agreed on an interim basis to limit the operation of its furnace, the apparent emission source, and has agreed to implement “state of the art technology” to limit emissions on a long term basis. It has also agreed to remediate the soil on its property, which should reduce or eliminate windblown contamination from that source. Community residents are currently studying the judgment to decide on further action.

The suit is supported by three counts ranging from violating the Clean Air Act to the endangerment of the environment and the public’s health and welfare.

Pilsen Alliance representatives met June 30 with Lisa Madigan’ environmental staff, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the state and federal Environmental Protection Agency to demand solutions to the ongoing lead emergency. The meeting took place after a number of mobilizations demanding a stop to the lead poisoning. Community representatives urged authorities to sue Kramer and seek an injunction to immediately cease and desist from operating until they find the problem, but they refused citing ongoing negotiations at the time.

Pilsen is a densely populated area made of mostly immigrant, low income residents already affected by severe health disparities. The elevated readings of lead in the neighborhood were captured from two nearby schools, and two elementary schools are within blocks of the polluter. Lead is especially dangerous to children. Pilsen Alliance is a grassroots community organization dedicated to the overall wellbeing of the community. In the last months it has mobilized hundreds of residents around this issue.

Contact: Rosalie Mancera, Maria Torres
312.243.5440 / 312.320.9790