CHICAGO – Tests show another Southeast Side little league field with dangerously high levels of heavy metals that may result in a federal clean-up. While the source of the toxic manganese found in the Hegewisch Babe Ruth Field is unclear at this time, Southeast Side facilities continue to emit high levels of manganese pollution despite City dust regulations adopted last year in response to community advocacy.
Remediation of the Hegewisch Little League Field just South of Babe Ruth Field started last week after high levels of lead and arsenic were found in the soil as a result of testing done as part of an investigation of the Watco transloading facility to the North of both ballfields.
After USEPA required Watco to install air monitors for manganese, the facility in February 2019 committed to stop handling unpackaged manganese. However, throughput data reported under a zoning change adopted in response to community pressure shows massive amounts of the neurotoxin moving through several other Southeast Side facilities. While Watco has stopped receiving unpackaged 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 data to the public, claiming it is confidential business information.
At the same time, fenceline air monitoring at S.H. Bell shows disturbingly high levels of manganese. The 2020 levels are notably double to quadruple the levels of manganese at the S.H. Bell monitor in 2018 and 2019, after agencies took action against the facility. The monitoring data also shows significant spikes in manganese, indicating that harmful emissions are not under control despite USEPA’s enforcement actions and the City’s regulations. USEPA announced a time-critical clean-up of manganese-contaminated soil next to S.H. Bell in 2019.
Advocates are asking Mayor Lightfoot and City officials to consider the accumulation of pollution on the Southeast Side when deciding whether to permit new industrial facilities like the proposed new General Iron car shredding operation. Residents also are pointing to the contamination of the little league fields and reiterating their ask for a ban on dangerous substances like manganese within city limits and for a moratorium on new industries coming into the already overburdened environmental justice communities.
The following are statements from residents and environmental justice activists:
“If Lincoln Park had these levels of lead, arsenic or manganese, the Mayor would do everything in her power to fix it,” said Peggy Salazar, director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. “When this happens in the Southeast Side or the West Side, no one seems to care about the consequences that our kids have to live with. We are calling for an end to environmental racism in Chicago.”
“The health of our families is at risk every day that City officials fail to protect us from dangerous polluters,” said Gina Ramirez, Midwest outreach manager at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Kids shouldn’t be playing in fields, backyards, and parks filled with poisonous chemicals. The City needs to ban manganese and stop General Iron from coming here.”
“Just telling kids to wash their hands is not going to do anything to solve this problem,” said Olga Bautista, Chair of the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke. “Replacing the soil is not enough. We need to address the root of the problem and ban these dangerous chemicals and stop new polluters from setting up shop near schools, parks, and homes.”
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) 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.