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Virtual Toxic Tour – Video

A Toxic Tour of Little Village

Sites on the Toxic Tours include MRC Polymers, Meyer Steel Drum, Crawford Generating Station [PDF] (a coal power plant owned by Midwest Generation, an Edison International Company), and Prima Plastics. When he stops at the first tour site, MRC Polymers, Hurtado explains that LVEJO was lobbying for more park space after this space opened up, but the factory was built instead, even after promises from Alderman Ricardo Muñoz (22nd Ward).

While 75 to 100 jobs were promised, Hurtado notes, so far only two Little Village residents have been hired. (A phone call to Ald. Muñoz’s office was not returned before press time.) But even after these concerns, this site, which recycles and melts plastic, isn’t the worst of the community’s problems because it doesn’t pollute nearly as much as some other sites.

To see the pollution, especially on hot summer days, Hurtado says to stop by the Crawford Generating Station at 3501 S. Pulaski Rd. Children call it the “cloud factory” because “they see all the smoke going out to the sky and they think it’s the clouds,” Hurtado says.

According to stats from Scorecard, part of the nonprofit Green Media Toolshed, Crawford released 130,081 pounds of “suspected skin or sense organ toxicants” in the air in 2002, followed by 110,821 pounds of “suspected respiratory toxicants” and 110,210 pounds of “suspected gastrointestinal or liver toxicants.”

Midwest Generation states on its website [PDF] that nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emission levels are “well below” EPA standards. The company has operated Crawford and the Fisk Generating Station in Pilsen since 1999, says Douglas McFarlan, senior vice president of public affairs for Midwest Generation. According to McFarlan, the power plants emit three main pollutants that the company strives to control: sulfur dioxide, which contributes to acid rain; nitrogen oxide; and mercury. Since 1999, Midwest Generation has installed new equipment and purchased a higher grade of coal to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 30 percent, nitrogen oxide (“a precursor to smog,” McFarlan says) by 60 percent, and mercury by 80 percent.

Even with new controls to limit pollution, however, striking numbers reflect Little Village’s ghostly past: According to a report compiled by the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, Chicago ranks second among all cities in the country adversely affected by power plant pollution, leading to 855 premature deaths, 848 hospitalizations, 1,519 heart attacks and 23,650 asthma attacks. The report also states that according to EPA officials, fine particle pollution from power plants shortens the lives of 1,356 Illinoisans every year, citing Crawford and Fisk as two main pollutants. The report goes on to mention that some of the current equipment in both plants dates back to 1959, and “because of their age, plants such as Fisk and Crawford are often exempt from rigorous clean air regulations.”