Power Plants on Their Way Out, Residents Celebrate
Kimberly Wasserman speaks to the media across the street from the Fisk power plant in Pilsen. The power plant, blamed for compromising the health of residents, will shut down by the end of this year.
After more than a decade of protests, petitions and marches, community residents and activists celebrated a deal that will shut down two coal-fired power plants in the Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods. These two plants, for years, have been blamed for compromising the health of residents in the two communities.
“I’ve lived between two coal plants for more than 30 years, but this will be the last year,” exclaimed Rosalie Mancera, as she gathered among fellow residents and activists at Dvorak Park near the Fisk power plant in Pilsen on Thursday, March 1.
City officials and plants’ owner, Midwest Generation, came to a deal on Wednesday Feb. 29 that will close the Fisk plant by the end of this year and the Crawford plant in Little Village by the end of 2014.
“People kept telling me it couldn’t be done,” said Leila Mendez, a member of Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization. “But when people unite they can’t be defeated. When people unite—you win.”
Mendez joined the effort in 1998 when she was diagnosed with a phyllodes tumor in her left breast. The rare and aggressive tumor, according to Mendez, was due to the pollution of the power plants.
“When I was diagnosed I asked ‘How?’ ‘What happened?’ Because the doctors said I took care of myself, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I wasn’t overweight, so what happened?” said Mendez.
According to a 2010 Clean Air Task Force report, pollution from the plants is responsible for an estimated 42 deaths, 66 heart attacks and 720 asthma attacks annually.
“If we go back more than a decade, as some of the groups working on this issue have, we are looking at more than 400 lives lost, more than 7,000 asthma attacks, more than 600 heart attacks,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.
The terms of the agreement give way for the creation of a community advisory council, made up of residents, activists and Midwest Generation representatives to address issues such as the toxicity and future uses of the site. Furthermore, activist groups including the Respiratory Health Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club will drop their lawsuit against the power company.
“From Little Village to Pilsen to across Chicago there are people who have fought day and night and stayed on this campaign when nobody else believed in us,” said Kimberly Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. “We are here because of those people, because of those organizers, and because of those leaders.”