Community leaders called for a moratorium on manganese handling on Chicago’s Southeast Side in response to new data presented by the City at a public meeting last night. The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) released soil sample data, showing substantial manganese contamination at homes near the SH Bell facility, which handles the material. At the meeting, community advocates presented their efforts to date to address harmful manganese and urged a full evaluation and clean-up of neurotoxic manganese. Representatives from federal and city agencies discussed the current soil findings and plans for further testing and collaboration between government agencies and community members.
Residents at the meeting expressed serious concerns about years of exposure to children and the lack of direction from the government agencies about medical diagnosis or treatment options for families living near facilities that handle manganese. Some residents described medical conditions ranging from chronic headaches and shaking hands to brain tumors. Although further soil testing by the U.S. EPA is currently focused on areas adjacent to the S.H. Bell facility, residents and advocates requested for expanded testing to homes, schools and parks near other manganese handling facilities.
Air monitoring has been underway at SH Bell since last year, triggering concerns that led to the soil sampling. The air monitoring showed high levels of manganese this past summer, resulting in a Clean Air Act Notice of Violation issued by U.S. EPA to S.H. Bell in August 2017. Chicago public health officials required S.H. Bell to incorporate substantially stricter measures to curb manganese dust emissions before accepting their dust control plan at the end of last year.
In light of the new soil data, community leaders reiterated the need for a moratorium on manganese handling while the City adopts a solution to this pollutant. Advocates also called on the City to halt all industrial permitting until the City adopts a comprehensive solution to the cumulative pollution burdens in environmental justice communities like the Southeast Side.
Following is a joint statement from Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke (SSCBP), Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF), Moms Clean Air Force, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), National Nurses United, and Reclaim Chicago:
“The soil results are deeply disturbing given the air pollution that has burdened our community for years. It is encouraging to see that the City has responded to our calls for soil tests at homes near S.H. Bell for this dangerous neurotoxin and has informed residents about the health threats it causes our community. In the past, the community has been left in the dark or ignored while pollution accumulated in our back yard. We appreciate the increased engagement of the community at this meeting, but the community must continue to have a lead role in the next steps taken by federal and City agencies.
“There are families with young children living near S.H. Bell that have been exposed to this dangerous neurotoxin and can’t understand why the City will not stop industry from handling manganese that puts the community’s health at risk. Residents feel that government isn’t providing the proper protection and public health resources to families that continue to be exposed.
“We welcome follow up testing from the EPA, but agencies must also test all schools, parks, and homes that are impacted by these manganese operations, and not just the area adjacent to S.H. Bell. Polluters should completely clean up the contamination they have left on our doorsteps.
“We don’t have time to wait. The City needs to put a moratorium on manganese in place and address the contamination in our neighborhoods now. Chicago needs to put the health of residents before the profit of polluters.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.