The Fourth of July is here. Baseball, apple pie, all that stuff. Except not baseball in my neighborhood. On the Southeast Side of Chicago, we’ve had some unfortunate episodes on our little league fields. A few years ago, black clouds of petcoke engulfing a baseball field was the first introduction to the battle over oil refining waste that was about to rage in the neighborhood and draw international attention. I still hear parents talking about rushing their kids home from that game.
And now comes the news that the EPA has begun remediation of another nearby ballfield, this time because of shockingly high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil that require immediate removal. That baseball diamond sits between a newly-listed Superfund site where steel slag and other nasty stuff had been illegally stored and a notorious bulk storage facility investigated by multiple agencies because of its handling neurotoxic manganese, which has been blowing into the surrounding community for years.
Advocacy by our community resulted in actions being taken to address these two sites—and who knows if the contamination at the Hegewisch ballfield would have been identified at all without our advocacy.
That’s the ongoing fight my neighbors and I are left with. Everywhere we turn, it is either legacy pollution from departed dirty industries that used the community as a dumping ground, current concerns like the ongoing issues with manganese and odors emanating from polluters along the Calumet River, or trying to keep new polluters like the infamous General Iron facility from relocating to my neighborhood and worsening the already toxic stew. And we are the ones who carry the burden of fighting to clean up our community. People in my community have had enough. We are already shouldering an outsized cumulative pollution burden, without the City continuing to consolidate polluting entities near our parks, schools and homes.
As a mom though…it is just a lot. And it is tiring, wondering if the places where my son plays are going to be the next pollution hotspot. Kids on the Southeast Side deserve to play outside just like children throughout Chicagoland. But examples like the Hegewisch ballfield on 127th and Carondolet make clear that they cannot. This July 4th, families in my neighborhood will be vigilant about where our kids play, just like every other day.