Pollution Affects Everyone

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Editor’s Note: The following article was written by a youth reporter who is a graduate of the Urban Youth International Journalism Program.

On Aug. 5, I interviewed 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell. The office was very busy. Dowell works with the residents in the ward to get their voices heard and have a better community. Many concerned residents were there to voice their concerns about the situations in their neighborhoods.

Residents' Journal youth reporter Jasmine Hunt interview Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) about pollution issues for the NUFF Said project, in September 2010. Photo by Quintana Woodridge

While waiting to interview the alderman, a concerned citizen caught my attention. Glenn Branch, 53, a general contractor of many trades, brought up an issue with me that he said was not properly taken care of in the ward.

Branch said there is an old sewage system where he lives at 4402 S. Wells Ave. which floods the alley behind Wells Street every time it rains. Twice, his basement flooded.

Branch said rats and the mulch city private contractors dumped in a vacant lot next to his house clog the sewer, causing the flooding in the alley and his house.
Branch called downtown and was put on a waiting list. The City has been slow to respond, Branch said. He said he feels he has tried many different ways to resolve the problem, but nothing has happened yet.
“There has not been an effort to stop [the flooding] and the new sewage system takes time to work,” Branch said. “The main cause of the floods is storms. They cause the sewage system to back up.”

Residents' Journal reporter Jasmine Hunt interviewing Glenn Branch in September 2010, about sewage backup into the basement of his South Side Home. Photo by Quintana Woodridge

Pollution is a major problem, even if it is not discussed as much as violence, crime, public housing or education. It affects everyone. Pollution is basically three issues in one – from health and safety to the environment.

The Nuf-Said project put out surveys to learn more about different issues that affect Chicago youths citywide.
When I finally got in the see the alderman, we quickly got into the interview, with me giving her the status results from the Nuf-Said survey.
JH: 68.8% of youth surveyed said that they worry about pollution in their communities. 79.3% of youth said people leaving trash on the streets and sidewalks is the major cause of pollution. How do you feel about that?

PD: Youth need to take a look at themselves. I see a lot of junk food chip bags, pop bottles and candy wrappers. They have to do their contribution and raise the focus and not litter. Parents can help and teach their children not to litter. I encourage using public transportation and people to do more to cut down pollution. We – the 3rd Ward – have a monthly newsletter and will include articles about pollution. We’ll hold rallies and forums.

J.H: How often does the alderman’s office clean up the community? What time are the communities’ trashes picked up and how often?

PD: There are a lot of vacant lots. We’re not able to clean and cut every lot every week. In the summer, the vacant lots are cut every six weeks. Street sweeping is done every four to six weeks. Regular trash is picked up once a week. Alleys and bulk – like furniture – in a couple of days. We use a grid so we clean certain area on specific days but typically, Monday through Friday. Commercial strips, such as those along State and King Drive, are cleaned up every day.

JH: What are the duties of the Streets and Sanitation ground workers?

PD: Their duties are to pick up alley trash, empty trash cans at bus stops, cut down bushes, and clean up vacant lots. If there is trash in front of a store and they fail keep their property clean, the Streets and Sanitation workers write tickets. The store also pays a fine.

JH: Are they responsible for cleaning vacant lots? If not, then who?

PD: Yes.

JH: How often does the alderman’s office respond to emergencies?

PD: As soon as they happen.

JH: [We the People Media/Residents’ Journal] sent an e-mail to [Streets and Sanitation Department spokesperson] Matt Smith and he said that the Streets and Sanitation units in each ward are responsible for cleaning up debris from floods. What type of debris is picked up by the Third Ward? Does the Streets and Sanitation pick up property such as furniture that is flooded?

PD: The next day. There’s not as much flooding like the 21st Ward. There was a couch on 45th South State /Wabash which was picked up a few days ago.

JH: What precautions does the Streets and Sanitation take when they remove the debris?

PD: The workers sometimes wear gloves, use garbage bins and, on some occasions, they wear masks.

JH: How does idle trash affect our health?

PD: It can be dangerous because of bacteria and it can cause rodents to come. I have a strong opposition towards plastic bags as well.

JH: Why aren’t there trash cans on every other corner in low-income communities like in the downtown Loop area?

PD: We do place trash cans on those corners but people steal the trash cans. The garbage cans have to be nailed down on various corners. People steal wire baskets for scrap metal or people don’t use the garbage cans that are there.

JH: What is the city doing to minimize the amount of pollution in low-income communities?

PD: You have to ask the Department of Environment because the Third Ward is not a priority of the department.

JH: Thank you for your time.

PD: You’re welcome

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