A coalition of environmental, health and social justice groups are pushing Mayor Lori Lightfoot to stop adding warehouses and other polluting businesses to already environmentally-stressed ‘sacrifice zones’ and said they would write a draft ordinance to seek changes in Chicago’s land use and zoning practices.
The new Coalition to End Sacrifice Zones said Wednesday it could not wait for a previously promised order from the Lightfoot administration that would address the cumulative pollution burden on black and brown communities on the south and west sides of the city. A year ago, the mayor said she would draw up a plan that would put in place tougher environmental reviews around industrial operations. Los Angeles and Minneapolis are among the cities with such laws.
Leaders of the city’s most polluted areas said they were tired of waiting for city hall and said they would engage their communities in the coming months to come up with new legislation. An air pollution analysis published by the Sun-Times this week showed that city residents who live near industrial areas, highways and busy roads, especially on the south and west sides, are exposed to a greater amount of pollution than other areas.
“It is unfair that our community is being poisoned every day for the benefit of industry instead of considering the public health implications these industries bring,” said Cheryl Johnson, executive director of the South Side People for Community Recovery organization. . “We want equal environmental protection, like any other community in this city.”
Johnson’s group was founded by his mother Hazel Johnson more than 40 years ago to protest the toxic pollution surrounding the Chicago Housing Authority’s Altgeld Gardens. This activism led to a massive ongoing federal cleanup of nearly 90 acres of hazardous contamination on the South Side and to federal legislation, the Environmental Justice Act of 1992, which sought to stop polluting low-income areas, often communities of color.
Further local-level policy changes must be put in place to reverse decades of discrimination, including past redlining practices, organizers say.
“Our sacrifice zone communities were not created by chance. They are the direct result of segregation and environmentally racist policies that put industries and corporations above our health and our future,” said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
Wasserman’s organization highlighted the addition of diesel truck traffic and resulting pollution in the southwest side of the city as large warehouses are on the rise.
Other environmental organizations joining the coalition include the South East Environmental Task Force, which fought a planned abandoned car shredding operation for the East Side, and Neighbors for Environmental Justice, which is fighting for years for an asphalt plant that operates across from McKinley Park. .
Blacks in Green, Grassroots Collaborative, Collaborative for Health Equity Cook County and Warehouse Workers for Justice are also members of the group.
In a statement, the city said Lightfoot “remains committed” to passing a cumulative impact ordinance and welcomes coordination with the new coalition.
“This order is essential to alleviate the burden of environmental damage suffered by black, brown and low-income communities that are crossed by major highways and/or near high volumes of heavy industry,” the statement said.
The city recently announced a major city-wide pollution impact study that will be completed by next year.
Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is possibly made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.