Little Village residents gather to mark 2-year anniversary of botched smokestack demolition that covered area in dust

The implosion scarred residents who still worry that the dust cloud could have lasting impacts on their health.

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A woman places flowers at an altar set up during a rally Monday to commemorate the second anniversary of the Hilco implosion that spread a massive dust cloud over the neighborhood.

A woman places flowers at an altar set up during a rally Monday to commemorate the second anniversary of the Hilco implosion that spread a massive dust cloud over the neighborhood.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Members of the Little Village community held a gathering Monday to mark the two-year anniversary of the botched demolition by Hilco Redevelopment Partners of a nearly 400-foot smokestack that blanketed the community in a thick plume of dirt and dust.

“That day really marked and scarred many of our residents; many still have deep public health concerns,” said Edith Tovar, a community organizer with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

“Why would you allow an implosion to happen during COVID-19, a respiratory pandemic?” she asked, still incredulous.

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A giant warehouse operated by the mega-retailer Target now sits on the land once occupied by the smokestack, which had previously been part of the Crawford Power Generation Station, an old coal plant.

“The warehouse is just a continuation of ongoing pollution,” Tovar said, noting the extra air pollution in the neighborhood brought by many trucks coming and going to the warehouse.

The gathering Monday was held at 33rd Street and Harding Avenue, near the site of the implosion.

Community members set up an altar and put flowers and other objects on it to commemorate the event. The altar also honored Fernando Cantu, a 78-year-old man who died shortly after the demolition.

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Dust cloud left by the implosion.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

Organizers said Cantu had asthma and COPD, and it is possible that toxic particulate matter aggravated his respiratory system and precipitated his death.

“The most important thing is don’t forget that we are taxpayers as well, and we contribute to the city budget, not only the big developers. Take us into consideration. We have the same rights, and we don’t want polluters in our community,” said community activist Irma Morales.

The group called for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to release the full investigative report into the incident that was done by the city’s inspector general, which so far has only been briefly summarized to the public.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) was out of town and didn’t attend the gathering but said over the phone Tuesday that he’s still pushing for a hearing to discuss the report and why it hasn’t been made public.

“I’ve filed a resolution calling for this and hope to get a hearing on it immediately,” he said.

Several months after the botched demolition, Hilco Redevelopment Partners, the company that tore down the coal plant to make way for the new warehouse, and two contractors agreed to pay $370,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the state over air pollution violations.

The company and a pair of contractors, MCM Management Corp and Controlled Demolition, were to pay the money to Access Community Health Network as part of its deal with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. Access operates health centers and serves Little Village.

The inspector general’s report also called for the firing of a city health official who failed to prevent the botched implosion. The official, however, was instead issued a written reprimand.

The inspector general also recommended that two officials in the Buildings Department be disciplined, but neither received any punishment.

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