UPDATED 05/25/11 1:28 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Eight Greenpeace activists climbed a smokestack at a coal plant in the Pilsen neighborhood Tuesday morning to protest the effects the plant is having on residents.

The Greenpeace activists began their climb at the Fisk plant at 1111 W. Cermak around dawn, according to spokeswoman Molly Dorozenski.

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About 3 p.m., Dorozenski said the activists left a perch on a catwalk about 450 feet above the ground and were rappelling down to paint “quit coal” in bright yellow paint on the smokestack.

“We’re going to stay up here until Edison International and the city understand we can’t continue to have old, dirty coal plants in the city of Chicago,” Kelly Mitchell, one of the protestors, said by cell phone as she sat atop the smoke stack.

“It is a little bit windy. It is dirty and dusty — not the most comfortable place I’ve hung out,” Mitchell said via cell phone Tuesday evening.

“Our top priority has been safety and being protected from the elements.”

Dorozenski said the protesters were taking action to draw attention to the health issues created by the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in the Pilsen and Little Village areas, respectively.

“They’re some of the oldest plants in the United States,” she said. She noted that nearly one in four Chicagoans live within a three-mile radius of one or both plants, and according to a report from the Clean Air Task Force, residents are at risk for heart disease, cancer and respiratory illness because of pollution from these plants.

Dorozenski noted that “the power in these plants goes out of state, the profits go to California (home of Edison International, parent company of Midwest Generation), and the pollution stays in Chicago.”

Mitchell said it was “hard for me to tell” from her perch above the city Tuesday morning if the protest had been effective, but added that after this protest, she would “keep doing what it takes until these coal plants are shut down.”

Regarding any danger inherent in climbing a 450-foot smokestack, Mitchell said, “All of us up here are experienced climbers (and) we’re looking out for each other.”

She and Dorozenski stressed that measures had been taken for the safety of the climbers. “For me personally,” Mitchell said, “those types of risks are worth taking when you look at the impact of these plants.”

The protest was planned in conjunction with a public hearing on the plants being conducted by the U.S. EPA at a downtown hotel.

Late Tuesday, the eight activists, six women and two men, were arrested at the bridge at 3900 S. Pulaski Rd. and charged with reckless conduct, according to police News Affairs Officer Ronald Gaines.

Their names were not immediately available Gaines said.

As of midnight, they hadn’t been fingerprinted and were still being processed by police. At least three of the people arrested had out of state identifications, including New York and Connecticut and Wisconsin, police said.

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