Environmental groups call for air monitoring, home air filtration systems in Little Village two years after botched implosion

Environmental community groups issued a list of demands Monday as they continue to seek answers about the demolition of a smokestack at the former Crawford Coal Plant.

SHARE Environmental groups call for air monitoring, home air filtration systems in Little Village two years after botched implosion
A sidewalk with a cloud of dust that spread across Little Village after the Crawford Coal Plant smokestack was imploded.

A cloud of dust spreads across the Little Village neighborhood after the Crawford Coal Plant smokestack was imploded, Saturday, April 11, 2020.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Environmental activists are urging the city to pay for public air monitoring systems and air filtration for residents who live near the site of a dust storm caused by the demolition of a smokestack.

More than two years after the demolition of the former Crawford Coal Plant created a dust cloud in Little Village, community groups say there are still unanswered questions about what led to the neighborhood being covered in dust April 11, 2020. Hilco Development Partners oversaw the demolition of the property.

The groups, including the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the Southeast Environmental Task Force, issued a list of demands Monday during a virtual news conference.

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“What that means for our neighborhood is not knowing for over 800 days what we were exposed to in the dust, what’s left in the soil or the long-term health effects,” said Kim Wasserman, the executive director for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

They want to see the installation of public air monitor systems paid for using the $19,500 Hilco paid in city fines after the demolition. Hilco also settled a lawsuit with the state for $250,000, and a related entity that owned the land and tow contractors were fined.

The groups also want the city and Hilco to pay for home air filtration systems for those who live closest to the demolition.

In an email Monday, city officials said the Chicago Department of Public Health had expressed concerns about the demolition, but the contractor failed to follow the dust mitigation plan. 

In the months after the demolition, the city and federal officials tested the air, dust and soil, according to the city. 

“The City is focused on protecting communities from environmental harm, and that’s why, from the moment the smokestack came down, CDPH, the Department of Buildings and other city departments acted swiftly and decisively to hold the company accountable and prevent this from every happening again by enacting strong, new rules for demolitions ...,” city officials said in a statement.

The site of the demolition now houses a 1-million-square-foot warehouse leased by Target located at 3501 S. Pulaski Rd. The groups want the Chicago Department of Public Health to complete a new soil study, create a remediation plan and install air monitoring systems in the area, which is just north of the Stevenson Expressway.

The city did not initially respond to requests for comment about the demands.

The demands come after the Chicago Sun-Times obtained internal communications showing seven months before the botched demolition, a city employee warned his supervisor that plans to implode the tower could cause “almost cataclysmic” harm. The messages include references for the need for plenty of water.

Wasserman said one example of the unanswered questions includes how much water was available and how much was used to mitigate the demolition.

“Without knowing what went wrong, how can we ensure the health and well-being of the city and our communities?” she said.

Earlier this year, City Hall’s Office of Inspector General released a summary of an investigation that examined what led up to the demolition. The environmental groups reiterated Monday their demand for the city to release the full investigation and findings.

Although at least one city worker received a written reprimand in the fallout of the demolition, the groups said Monday they would like to see more accountability by those who worked for the city during the demolition.

“The city has a duty to protect its residents, and it failed to protect the residents of Little Village,” said Olga Bautista, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. “The mayor must release the full OIG report and should hold accountable the officials such as (Chicago Department of Public Health) Assistant Commissioner Dave Graham for his negligence during the Hilco implosion.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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