The Southeast side of Chicago has always been concerned about the high-level of pollutants in their community. Organizer Peggy Salazar and her team at the Southeast Environmental Task Force knew that there were chemicals like manganese, a neurotoxic metal used in steel production, and petcoke, a byproduct of petroleum refining, being stored in giant open-air piles in their neighborhood, but it was difficult to get city officials to engage on the issue. Four years ago, they asked Senator Durbin to implore the city to monitor for pollutants in their community. When the resulting report turned up appreciable levels of manganese in addition to petcoke, local organizers weren’t surprised, but it further propelled them into action. Since then, families in the predominately Latino and low-income neighborhood have been fighting to get this problem fixed.
But efforts to get the city and EPA to take swift action had stalled. So when some Southeast Side families had the chance to travel to Washington DC last month to talk to their lawmakers about air pollution, they put this issue at the top of their talking points. At a meeting with Senator Durbin, they thanked him for helping to get the monitors installed, and let him know that they had detected the neurotoxic metal manganese, which drifts as dust into their nearby residential neighborhood. They asked Senator Durbin again to help protect their families.
Manganese is being stored and handled in a facility owned by S.H. Bell, and is near residences, parks, playgrounds, and schools in the community. There are thousands of children living within one-mile of S.H. Bell.
Senator Durbin was listening. After the meeting, he wrote letters to S.H. Bell, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the EPA about the manganese exposures on the Southeast Side. The letters seem to have infused new energy into the city’s and EPA’s timeline for taking action. A recent community meeting found community members, city officials, and the EPA working through a timeline for monitoring and eliminating exposure to the dangerous pollution.
By speaking directly to their lawmakers about the manganese problem in their community, these Southeast Side moms were able to make a difference. (Tweet this)
“Like all moms, I want the places where our families live, work, and play to be free from pollution and hazardous waste,” says Kelly Nichols, our Chicago-based field organizer. Kelly has been working closely with the Southeast Side community to help seek a solution to the manganese piles. “We are pleased at the importance Senator Durbin has placed on this issue. No mother should have to worry that her children are breathing unsafe levels of in chemicals that can damage their developing brains.”
Says community organizer Olga Bautista of the Southeast Coalition to Ban Petcoke, “[The recent] meeting reaffirmed that both the EPA and the City must work with the community residents and regard them as experts on the day to day experience of living alongside dirty industry. An equitable solution must be fashioned with their input to ensure that they are not at risk from manganese, or more broadly from the toxic soup on the Southeast Side.”