Tests show ‘no apparent health risk’ from Little Village smokestack implosion, city says

Particulate matter, dust and soil composition and building debris were tested by the Chicago Department of Public Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

SHARE Tests show ‘no apparent health risk’ from Little Village smokestack implosion, city says
The implosion of a 95-year-old smokestack in Little Village blanketed the surrounding area in a cloud of dust, but testing of particulate matter, dust and soil composition and building debris, conducted by the Chicago Department of Public Health and U. S. Environmental Protection Agency showed “no apparent health risk to the surrounding community,” the city announced Monday.

The implosion of a 95-year-old smokestack in Little Village blanketed the surrounding area in a cloud of dust, but testing of particulate matter, dust and soil composition and building debris, conducted by the Chicago Department of Public Health and U. S. Environmental Protection Agency showed “no apparent health risk to the surrounding community,” the city announced Monday.

Tyler Laiviere/Sun-Times file

The April 11 smokestack demolition that enraged and endangered Little Village residents triggered “no apparent health risks,” according to air quality tests released Monday.

Testing of particulate matter, dust and soil composition and building debris were conducted by the Chicago Department of Public Health and U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and validated by a “non-governmental agency,” according to City Hall.

According to City Hall, the tests at the site of the shuttered Crawford coal-fired power plant show “no apparent health risk to the surrounding community.”

During an unrelated news conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was asked why Little Village residents should trust those test results when they feel like they have been betrayed, lied to and kept in the dark by City Hall.

“They can [trust] those results because they’ve been validated — not only just by CDPH, but by the U.S. EPA,” the mayor said.

“And since the day that this implosion happened ... we’ve been in constant conversation with people in the community. ... We have really done a lot to try to engage with members of that community — not just to push information out, but to hear from the residents and make sure that feedback is active and engaged.”

Lightfoot was asked whether she considers the controversy triggered by the smokestack demolition over.

“No, it’s not over. It’s not gonna be over until we make sure that we continue to do everything that we can to keep residents of this community safe. ... There’s more work to be done to make sure that we stand up a very robust communication engagement strategy with members of that community so they feel like they have knowledge at their fingertips,” she said.

Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said she won’t know if she can “trust the results” until she sees the test report and goes through it “line-by-line.”

“Our experience in the past is, it’s really up to your interpretation of the results. What the Department of Public Health considers safe levels versus what the federal government considers safe,” Wasserman said.

“In the past, we’ve seen that the federal government has more stringent levels of what they deem to be safe versus what the state deems to be safe. That’s what we need to understand for ourselves. What do they deem to be safe and is that truly safe? We also want to see how samples were collected, who collected them and the timeliness of those collections. All of those factors weigh into how reliable those results are.”

Local Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) said he’s relieved by the test results, but they should not be the final word.

“It’s definitely good to hear these results. They don’t raise any further alarms. But, I’m asking the city to continue to monitor and continue to test. We need to make sure these results are accurate and that they remain consistent,” Rodriguez said.

Armed with a city demolition permit that Rodriguez claims he twice tried to stop, a sub-contractor hired by Hilco Redevelopment Partners imploded the 95-year-old smokestack. The demolition at the site of a shuttered coal-fired power plant proceeded without the safety measures the sub-contractor had promised to implement.

The implosion caused a giant plume of dust to rain down on the community, making it difficult to breathe during a coronavirus pandemic that does the same. Homes, vehicles, streets and sidewalks were left filthy.

After the demolition, the Chicago Department of Public Health collected 14 dust “wipe samples” from the windshields of vehicles nearby.

The samples were tested for asbestos and metals. That includes lead, cadmium, selenium, nickel and zinc, chromium, and arsenic. Two days later, soil samples were tested for the presence of asbestos, polynuclear aromatics semi-volatile organic compounds PCB’s, pesticides and inorganics.

On April 14, so-called “SUMMA canisters” were installed to search for organic compounds and dust particles. Additional air monitors were installed over the next several weeks.

On Monday, the city published the air quality tests. According to City Hall, they show “no particulate levels considered to be unsafe for human health, per EPA standards.”

The EPA “measured particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and PM 10, and found no sustained readings were above the national air quality ambient standard threshold,” City Hall said in a press release announcing the findings.

“SUMMA canister air tests did reveal low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s),” the press release said, adding that the city health department “is currently reviewing these results with experts to better understand potential sources and impacts while comparing them to background levels found in the air, both in Little Village and across the city.”

Hilco has already been slapped with 16 citations and $68,000 in fines for failing to spray the site with water before, during and after the demolition.

The old Crawford power plant, 3501 S. Pulaski Rd.

The smokestack at the shuttered Crawford coal-fired power plant, 3501 S. Pulaski Rd., was demolished April 11.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has referred an “enforcement action” to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

According to City Hall, the settled dust composition was tested by the Health Department with “additional analysis and validation” by a non-governmental agency. Testing for lead and arsenic was a “priority” because it was the site of the “nature of the former Crawford” power plant site.

“No asbestos was detected in the samples collected from the area where the dust cloud settled. The samples were also tested for inorganic materials and metals, and while small concentrations of lead and barium were found in the dust, health experts determined that the levels found do not present an apparent health risk to residents,” the press release states.

Soil samples were collected from the area surrounding the smoke stack. Those tests were also “validated by an outside party,” officials said.

“Results revealed metals in the form of arsenic, barium, lead and mercury, consistent with expectations of the site, as well as with background levels found in soil throughout the city. Health professionals believe these levels do not currently pose a material health risk to the surrounding community,” the release states.


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