CHICAGO – More than 100 people marched through Little Village Sunday to mark the anniversary of a botched factory demolition that sent a cloud of dust over the Southwest Side neighborhood, creating serious concerns over air pollution.
On Sunday, Little Village residents said they feel as if their neighborhood is an environmental “dumping ground” after a bungled smokestack implosion at the now-defunct Crawford Coal Plant blanketed the neighborhood.
Sunday’s protest was to remind the city that problems still linger.
“It was a year ago today when a cloud of dark smoke covered years of contamination, corruption, neglect and putting money over people engulfed the Southwest Side,” said activist Oscar Sanchez.
Kimberly Wasserman of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization says the community voiced their concerns with city officials for two years. The city approved the demolition to start development on a new Target logistics warehouse, however.
“There was a huge cloud just covering the entire neighborhood,” said Little Village resident Maria Quinones. It was dark and they knew something was wrong,”
Quinones said her parents were sick with COVID-19 and the resulting air pollution made it worse.
“To this day, my parents still find a layer of dust in their furniture and the windowsills, everywhere,” she said.
Citing a health hazard, residents remain outraged that the city allowed the explosion to occur.
Suburban developer Hilco Redevelopment Partners was behind the botched smokestack implosion. After the state of Illinois sued the company, Hilco agreed to pay $370,000 into a fund to support community health. Residents said that act was not enough, however.
Alderman Byron Sigco Lopez of the 25th Ward, says the company must engage residents and work to ensure clean air and water in the area.
“Here in this particular site, the community is also demanding a community benefits agreement, to have not only a say so in the plan but also to be a part of the planning process,” he said.
Marching through Little Village behind a mariachi band, neighbors and activists intended to draw attention to the unequal impact of environmental issues – saying racial and economic inequities magnify problems.
“We are looking to dismantle this administration that doesn’t care about us,” Sanchez said. “That’s allowed this to happen. Any administration that lets this happen and says this was a mistake or miscommunication does not clearly prioritize our lives.”
Wasserman says residents have a simple demand – after a year of holding their breath.
“We just want to breathe.”