Residents of the Pilsen and Little Village communities have been dissatisfied for over a decade about the continued operation of coal plants in their neighborhoods. The Fisk and Crawford coal plants, owned by the Edison International subsidiary Midwest Generation, are each over a 100 years old and violate standards of the Clean Air Act.
In recent years this dissatisfaction has been building to outrage as the company continues to stall on significantly improving the pollution output of the two plants. Although Midwest Generation has agreed to a plan that requires each of the plants to be cleaned up or shut down by 2018, members of the affected communities and local environmental groups don’t want to wait that long.
And it’s not just the communities that are affected directly by the coal plants’ emissions that are unhappy with the pollution. A recent survey commissioned by the Chicago Clean Power Coalition discovered that nearly half (47%) of all Chicago voters feel the city of Chicago is doing too little to reduce air pollution.
The same study explained that opponents of the proposal that would require the Fisk and Crawford plants to reduce their particle emissions and carbon dioxide are against shutting down the plants because doing so would result in the loss of nearly 200 jobs.
Another study conducted by the Clean Air Task Force determined that air pollution from Fisk and Crawford leads to more than 40 deaths, 720 asthma attacks and 66 heart attacks each year.
Several members from the concerned communities gathered at Pilsen Elementary Community Academy on Tuesday afternoon for a clean air rally and press conference organized by the Sierra Club. Representatives from the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Pilsen Alliance, Little Village Environment Justice Organization and Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization were in attendance at the event, which included on-site asthma screenings for children.
“The goal was to find a spot that represented the people who are dealing with these plants the most,” said Claire Orphan, associate press secretary at the Sierra Club. “Of all the people that are affected, the most affected are the elementary school kids who deal with it on a day-to-day basis.”
The asthma screenings were held in a Mobile C.A.R.E. asthma van, a converted Winnebago motor home that serves as a mobile doctor’s office and travels to underserved schools and communities to provide free asthma education, testing and treatment to children 6 months to 18 years old.
Mobile C.A.R.E. has conducted screenings in two such vans for the last 12 years. The vans are open to everyone but regularly serve about 40 different sites.
Dr. Stephanie Whyte has worked for Mobile C.A.R.E. for 10 years and is the organization’s medical director. She said that although it’s difficult to identify specific links between coal and asthma, it is clear that the toxic chemicals emitted by coal plants have an affect on asthma rates.
“Can you say directly that someone has asthma because a coal plant put out this amount of toxic chemicals? It’s harder to say. But we know it’s a contributing factor,” Whyte said.
Mike Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, made the trip from San Francisco to speak at the rally.
“It’s time for us to realize that we don’t have any more time,” Brune said. “How much longer are we going to let Midwest Generation bully our kids? How long are we going to let them make us sick when we have solutions available today?”
Other representatives from local community groups were also given the chance to speak. Two of the speakers were Pilsen activists who are also mothers of children with asthma.
“The reality is that this asthma van is at all of our schools one day a week,” said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the mother of two asthmatic children. “I wish I could say that the asthma van only comes now and then, but the reality of the asthma in our community is the vans are at every school in Pilsen and every school in Little Village.
“We will go to the ends of the earth to protect our children, to protect our families — to keep them healthy, and to fight for clean air.”
Read more: Anti-pollution revolution comes to Pilsen