Chicago Residents Hardest Hit by Pollution Call on City to Act Following Audit

CHICAGO – Environmental advocates are renewing calls for City government to address the disproportionate pollution burden for Chicago’s communities of color following a new audit from City’s Office of Inspector General. The report shows significant gaps in the City’s enforcement of air quality standards and highlights the Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) insufficient staffing and lack of written guidance on how to prioritize the highest-risk facilities for inspection. 

The report shows that the largest air pollution emitters are located on the City’s South and West Sides – a disparity called out by the groups for decades. The Office of Inspector General noted that these gaps in enforcement “increase the risk of excessive emissions that harm the public and the environment.” 

These gaps include infrequent inspections of over 500 facilities that are the worst air polluters in the city, nearly 100 facilities that lacked any inspection for a three-year span starting in 2015, and 100 facilities that needed annual “certificates of operation” but received them less than half the time. 

Earlier this year, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) and Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke (SSCBP) called on Mayor Lightfoot to take an equitable approach to ensure that “public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all people.” The organizations called on the mayor to establish consistent community engagement standards and to guarantee that the health and quality of life of our residents not be dictated by where they live by ensuring that environmental justice principles are at the core of the City’s work on public health, sustainability, and environment.

The following are reactions from the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and the Natural Resources Defense Council: 

“This new report confirms what we’ve been saying for years: the City isn’t doing enough to protect families of color from polluters,” said Kim Wasserman, Executive Director of LVEJO. “Chicago needs a stronger commitment to environmental protection and the resources to do the job. It’s not enough to hire a few new inspectors and improve data entry – we need reforms that will protect the health of Chicago’s most vulnerable communities and keep harmful industry from concentrating in the South and West Sides.”

“We need to raise the bar and stop opening the door and giving taxpayer dollars to companies like General Iron to move from the North Side to my community,” said Peggy Salazar, Executive Director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. “The pollution in our communities didn’t start when the Department of Environment was disbanded, and it won’t be fully addressed by moving around responsibilities now.”

“It’s critically important that the City prioritize protecting public health and holding polluters accountable. This report is a strong reminder that the burden shouldn’t be on communities to police these facilities. Chicago residents should be able to expect clean air and clean water. The City should work directly with residents to make decisions that protect everyone's health and quality of life,” said Olga Bautista, Community Planning Manager, Alliance for the Great Lakes.

“When the City fails to monitor and police industry that is spewing dangerous chemicals or other pollution into our air, all Chicagoans suffer,” said Meleah Geertsma, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s more important than ever to strengthen laws and departments that ensure that the health of all Chicago families is protected from the threats of pollution. This report highlights a critical opportunity for Mayor Lightfoot to improve conditions for Chicago families – and an important message that environmental health should be one of the equity issues elevated in this administration.”    


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, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC


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