My community of Altgelt Gardens is widely known as the “toxic doughnut.” We are surrounded by a ring of toxicity, including 50 documented landfills and 382 industrial facilities. Nearly two dozen of the region’s top polluters are within 8 miles of Altgeld Gardens and other neighborhoods on the Southeast side. Yet, there is legislation sitting on Governor’s Quinn’s passed in the final hours in Springfield creating a coal plant pushed by a New York company that would make matters worse. The Leucadia coal plant is an assault on environmental justice.
My name is Cheryl Johnson and I am a lifelong resident of the Chicago Southeast side community where the Leucadia plant would be built. I am the executive director of People for Community Recovery, an environmental justice organization founded by my mother Hazel Johnson, who is nationally recognized as the “mother of the environmental justice movement.”
My mother started an environmental justice movement here in Southeast Chicago after my father prematurely died of lung cancer. She used industry data and census figures to highlight how poor African-American and Latino neighborhoods throughout the nation are disproportionately affected by air and water pollution. One of her achievements includes getting the Chicago Housing Authority to clean up asbestos on its Altgeld Gardens property and even brought in a young community activist named Barack Obama to help. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?
The air we breathe on the Southeast side is over the legal limits for air pollution. Our neighborhood experiences some of the highest rate of respiratory ailments, cancer and lung disease in the country. More than one out of two children between ages of 6 and 15 years old have asthma on the Southeast side. As if that weren’t enough, Leucadia wants to add another polluting plant to our community.
We are tired of the environmental assault.
The site where Leucadia wants to build their polluting facility is two blocks from Washington High School, where 1,500 students sit and learn every day. The air monitor located on the roof of the school shows the neighborhood’s air already has the state’s highest levels of toxic chromium and cadmium, as well as sulfates, which can trigger asthma attacks. It also has some of the state’s highest levels of lung-damaging soot and brain-damaging lead.
What will the Governor and the state legislators say to the parents of these children who are struggling to breathe because of their severe asthma attacks triggered by the toxic air?
Bringing the dangerous Leucadia to our already struggling community is the worst idea I have ever heard. After Chicago recently made an historic commitment to clean air by retiring two existing coal plants located within the city limits, where is the logic in building a new one that would pollute the air we just cleaned? Would you mop the floor and then walk across it in muddy shoes?
We want jobs and we want industry that don’t pollute our neighborhoods and make our children sick.
Mr. Governor, last summer you approved legislation to create an environmental justice commission intended to address concerns about high asthma and cancer rates in low-income neighborhoods. You said, “Race, income or nationality should not determine the quality of the air one breathes or the water one drinks.”
Stand behind your words. Veto the Leucadia coal plant.
Cheryl Johnson is the Executive Director of People for Community Recovery