Reporting Mai Martinez
CHICAGO (CBS) – Imagine sending your kids to school every day not knowing if the air they’re breathing could harm them. That’s what parents of students at Perez Elementary School in Pilsen have been struggling with.
The school is surrounded by several lead-emitting plants including H. Kramer and Company, Crawford Power Plant, and Fisk Power Plant. As CBS 2′s Mai Martinez reports, for years, people in Pilsen have been blaming the lead in the air from those plants for the numerous illnesses, health problems and learning disabilities that they and their children have suffered.
Ald, Danny Solis (25th) said he wants the city to force those companies and others to clean up their act.
To the naked eye, there’s really no sign of trouble in the air in Pilsen, but people living there believe lead from nearby plants has made it toxic.
“It’s, like, way over the EPA limit,” said Asuncion Torres, a member of The Pilsen Alliance, a community activist organization.
That group and others in the community want the plants to drastically reduce their lead emissions.
They’re not alone. On Monday, the City Council Committee on Health and Environment approved an ordinance which will require companies to limit lead emissions to 100 pounds per year or face fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
Currently, at least three of the plants are exceeding that level.
Solis said he believes his ordinance has the teeth to get companies to lower their lead emissions.
“I mean they are going to have to. Not only do they get fined, but if they keep it up, they can get closed up,” he explained.
People living in Pilsen said their primary concern is the children in the neighborhood, especially those attending Perez Elementary.
”When you see these high levels of lead in the air and then you know that you have high levels of lead in paint in these old homes, there’s a good chance the children are ingesting, you know, way more lead than they should be,” explained Jerry Mead-Lucero, a member of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reforms Organization (P.E.R.R.O).
“It’s lead poisoning to children. It hinders the brain development and the way that children learn,” said Torres, whose group refers to Perez Elementary as “ground zero.”
Torres also was quick to point out that this shouldn’t just be a health concern in Pilsen.
“The problem starts here in ground zero, but you have to remember that we all breathe the same air,” she said. “There’s no barriers that say the air’s not going to go north or south. It blows.”
Calls to the companies in question for comment on the proposed ordinance were not returned.
As for the Lead Pollution Ordinance, it is scheduled to go before the full City Council for a vote on Thursday and Solis said he believes he has the votes to get it passed.