CHICAGO – In response to continued advocacy by community leaders, Illinois’ congressional delegation is once again urging the U.S. EPA to crack down on Southeast Side Chicago neurotoxin handlers. The response comes as new data show disturbingly high levels of brain-damaging manganese at one facility in the area. On Monday, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly and Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth called on U.S. EPA to take immediate action and seek civil penalties from any facility that the agency finds has violated State or National Clean Air Act protections with respect to manganese.
Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) dust regulations, adopted in January, require facilities to use enhanced controls when handling manganese. However, March air monitoring data from the Watco facility on the Southeast side again shows levels above the federal health threshold, despite both the city’s regulations and a pending Notice of Violation issued by U.S. EPA to Watco in December of last year.
After being cited for manganese pollution, Watco has voluntarily committed to stop handling the dangerous material. However, reported throughput data shows massive amounts of the neurotoxin moving through several Southeast Side facilities. While Watco has stopped receiving manganese, residents fear that material once handled by Watco will go through other Southeast Side facilities like NASCO or S.H. Bell. Notably, S.H. Bell is the only manganese handling company that has asked CDPH not to disclose its throughput to the public, claiming it is confidential business information.
Against this picture of ongoing problems with active manganese operations, residents continue to voice concerns with manganese and lead in the soil surrounding these facilities. The U.S. EPA will host an open house on May 16 to provide information on its initiation of soil sampling for properties near the Watco facility.
The following are quotes from Southeast Side community leaders:
From Olga Bautista, Alliance for the Great Lakes Community Planning Manager and Southeast Environmental Task Force Board Member:
“We have been fighting for years to get this brain-damaging chemical out of our neighborhood, and have forced government agencies to police these polluters. Despite stricter rules and air monitors we still have to worry about our kids risking their health by playing outside. We are grateful that our Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth as well as Representative Robin Kelly are standing with the community and demanding that the EPA act now.”
From Gina Ramirez, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) staffer and Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke (SSCBP) Co-Chair:
“Kids play at parks and ballfields near the facilities that continue to spew out brain-damaging manganese. There are schools and homes near the sources of this danger to our health. While the EPA cleans the most contaminated soil near these polluters, they will continue to pollute our community until they are forced to stop. We need a ban now.”
From Martha Torrez Allen, Midwest SOARRING Foundation Member and Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke (SSCBP) Co-Chair:
“The children of this community deserve the same protection as kids in the suburbs and more affluent parts of town. The City has an absolute duty of care to all of its residents and must put public health before the profits of big 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.