Chicago’s predominantly working class South and West sides suffer the consequences of the city’s industrial plants that spew smoke and toxins into the air and into the soil. City residents have pleaded with the Illinois EPA to do something about what is being pumped out of the plants and to stop the construction of new plants in their communities.
The health risks are enormous for these communities. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, lung cancer, asthma attacks and cardiovascular damage. Growing evidence shows a relation to developmental and reproductive harm and environmental pollution is connected to autism and dementia. Hospital visits for asthma in Chicago are twice the national average for the United States.
A policy in the 90s was supposed to address the concerns of communities impacted by these industrial sites and their toxins. When the EPA receives a construction permit request from a business, they are supposed to inform elected officials and community organizations if the area has a minority or low-income population twice the statewide average.
A recent report from the Chicago Tribune has found that the EPA does little if anything to inform residents. According to the report, in the last 3 years almost 2,000 permits for construction were filed as being complete in the EPA’s environmental justice outreach database. The EPA marked these projects as having notified residents of the construction in their neighborhoods. However, in more than half of the cases no notification letter was sent. When they were sent only 80 were given the minimum allotted time to respond of two weeks.
The NRDC recently reported that Chicago’s poor and working class neighborhoods are exposed to the most toxic air pollution and environmental toxins in the city. The findings were based on guidelines defined by the EPA, covering air and water pollution, lead exposure, and proximity to hazardous waste. Chicago also failed the American Lung Association’s 2018 State of the Air Report, due to the increase in “unhealthy ozone pollution days.”
In August, residents of Willowbrook, Illinois were informed by the EPA that the medical sterilization company, Sterigenics, was releasing cancer-causing ethylene oxide into the air from their plant. 19,000 people live within a mile of the plant. The EPA estimated that people living in this area are at least nine times as likely to get cancer. The EPA and Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner, knew about the high cancer risks in December 2017 but said nothing.
In November, it was revealed two more plants are releasing cancer-causing pollutants, Medline Industries and Vantage Specialty Chemicals. More than 40,000 people live within the high risk cancer zones of these plant.
The EPA knew in advance about all of this, but said nothing.