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  HOME | World (Click here for more)

Coal-Fired Plants Blamed for Health Woes in Latino Neighborhoods

By Antonio Zavala

CHICAGO – The emissions from two coal-fired electric plants located in Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago are affecting the health of local residents, activists say.

The Crawford Generating Station in La Villita (Little Village) and the Fisk plant in Pilsen emit mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide particles, all of which cause acid rain and contribute each year to respiratory problems, including asthma, among the public.

Two groups, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, have been fighting for years to stop the pollution from the two plants.

Both organizations recently received justification for their long struggle when the Environmental Law and Policy Center released the results of a study on the Crawford and Fisk contamination.

ELPC calculated that since 2002, the effects of the emissions on residents have generated $1 billion in healthcare costs.

“The public can’t afford the huge health costs from the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago neighborhoods,” ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said in a press release accompanying the analysis.

In La Villita, Ian Viteri, an Hispanic organizer with the LVEJO group told Efe that the effects of the pollution emitted by the Crawford plant are being seen every day.

“There are a lot of people in the community with asthma and other respiratory problems,” Viteri said.

In Pilsen, Dorian Breuer, with P.E.R.R.O., told Efe that his organization is fighting to get the city council to approve an ordinance to halt the emissions from both plants.

In this war to improve air quality, said Breuer, not even Pilsen Alderman Danny Solis, a close ally of retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, is supporting them.

Therefore, Breuer said that they are seeking the support of other aldermen and city groups that sympathize with their struggle.

“Pilsen is one of the most densely populated areas,” commented Breuer. “This is not the place to put a plant that dirties and pollutes the air.”

Breuer mentioned that a study carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health – which analyzed data on the soot particles emitted by the Fisk and Crawford plants in 2001 – calculated that about 40 people in Pilsen and La Villita “die prematurely” each year.

“Clearly, there’s no direct evidence and never will be,” said Breuer. “They’re dying silently and not even we know who they are.”

P.E.R.R.O. and LVEJO on Monday organized a march from the University of Illinois in Chicago to the Fisk plant in Pilsen to call attention to their demands.

Viteri told Efe that Aldermen Solis and Ricardo Muñoz – representing La Villita – receive donations from the company that operates the two plants, Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of California-based Edison International.

“If I thought for a minute that we’re putting the residents of District 25 in Chicago in danger, I myself would be pushing to close the two plants,” Solis said in a written statement sent to Efe.

“But that is not the case. These two plants are meeting the rigorous state and federal requirements designed to protect public health and safety,” he said.

The two plants existed before the creation of the 1977 Federal Clean Air Act, and so they are exempt from the most rigid controls that other facilities must face.

Viteri said that the worst thing about the case is that the energy created by the plants is not destined to be consumed within Chicago.

“Apart from the 200 jobs that these two companies create, we don’t get any benefit,” said Viteri. “But we certainly get all the pollution.” EFE

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