Little Village Toxic Tour

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Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our first-ever Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen, Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, and Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

The smoke stacks of the Crawford coal plant in Little Village look like giant chimneys. This is one of many pollution sources in Little Village, a small, mostly Mexican neighborhood on the Southwest Side that is affected by a lot of pollution and where finding a job is very hard.

Eco Youth reporters Makylia Anderson and Tyreshia Black reporting in Little Village. Photo by Kari Lydersen.

During a “Toxic Tour” with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), we saw different polluting industries including MRC, a plastics recycling plant that melts down car bumpers and other things. LVEJO has had many meetings about MRC.

Many people report breathing problems and there are also high rates of cancer, according to LVEJO, in the area around MRC and another facility, Meyer Steel Drum.

The LVEJO activists talked about where coal for the coal plant comes from. They blow up mountains to get at the coal, the activists explained. They also said the coal plant doesn’t really provide electricity to the city – since the electricity gets sent to other states. The big power lines from the plant could cause leukemia, according to some studies. A study by a Harvard professor said the coal plant (along with another one in Pilsen) causes 2,600 asthma attacks each year, and it releases toxic lead and mercury.

The only positive thing on the tour was a garden at the Joseph E. Gary Elementary School started by LVEJO where they grow vegetables. There isn’t much healthy food in Little Village, only corner stores that don’t have fresh vegetables, making it a “food desert.” So the garden is important. They don’t plant directly in the soil since it is contaminated.

LVEJO also publishes a magazine called El Cilantro, where they talk about the garden and the pollution in the neighborhood.

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