CPLC Stands With Chicago’s SE Side in Hunger Strike Against General Iron Move

Today, four members of Clean Power Lake County’s Steering Committee joined a growing hunger strike to protest the move of General Iron Industries’ metal shredding facility from Chicago’s affluent, predominantly white Lincoln Park neighborhood to the predominantly Latino Southeast Side (East 116th Street along the Calumet River).

Clean Power Lake County co-chair Celeste Flores explains why she, Lupe Bueno, Eddie Flores, and Leah Hartung participated in today’s one-day solidarity hunger strike:

[As residents of] Waukegan, Illinois, we know all too well how environmental justice communities bear the burden of the health and economic impacts from corporate polluters. We stand in solidarity with community members on the Southeast Side of Chicago, who are on the fifth day of their hunger strike.

Fasting is used as a method of protesting injustice. In this case, the injustice is environmental racism—something environmental justice communities experience on a day-to-day basis. Mayor Lightfoot has had plenty of opportunities to stand with the people and not with corporate polluters. Today I am calling on Senators Durbin and Duckworth to intervene before it is too late for the community members they represent. 

Just [as they did with] the community members in Little Village—who in April 2020 experienced the demolition of the Crawford smokestack in the middle of a global pandemic that affects the respiratory system—Mayor Lightfoot and her team have shown over and over again they do not have the best interests of community members in mind when approving permits that favor corporations over people. 

Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth, it is not enough for you to come out with a statement after the permit is issued. This community deserves to hear you denounce the approval of the General Iron operations permit for the Southeast Side of Chicago, and they deserve it today. We look forward to you choosing to stand with people who live and work in the Southeast Side and holding Mayor Lightfoot accountable for her actions in this beautiful community.

A local teacher and two activists initiated the hunger strike to draw attention to their plight. They have vowed not to eat solid foods until the City of Chicago denies General Iron’s application for an operating permit. (For updates, go to #StopGeneralIron Hunger Strike on Twitter.)

According to a news report in the Chicago Sun-Times, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is investigating residents’ complaints that operation of the car-shredding facility would violate their civil rights.

As far as Clean Power Lake County is concerned, adding yet another polluter to a community already burdened by other industrial companies in the area is unconscionable. 

If you agree, please call on Senators Tammy Duckworth and Richard Durbin to intervene and condemn General Iron’s proposed move.  

Ethylene Oxide: CPLC Fights Toxic Emissions in Our Community

Diana Burdette
Diana Burdette of Clean Power Lake County discusses community efforts to ban ethylene oxide emissions during an appearance on Adelante.

Tens of thousands of residents in western Waukegan, Gurnee, Park City, North Chicago, Warren Township, and Naval Station Great Lakes, are at risk from ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions — the same cancer-causing chemicals that prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker to order the shutdown of Sterigenics in DuPage County.

And that is unacceptable!

Clean Power Lake County and Faith in Place have worked actively on this issue since November 2018, when an article about cancer-causing ethylene oxide gas emissions in Waukegan and Gurnee appeared on page 1 of the November 4, 2018, Chicago Tribune.  Our own Celeste Flores and Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts were key sources in that article.

That was when we learned that Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee posed significant health risks to our communities.

Officials from Lake County, Waukegan and Gurnee knew about the hazards before the Chicago Tribune article was published. However, they did not warn neighbors of the hazards.

  • More than 19,000 people live within areas at risk from ethylene oxide emitted at the Medline Industries plant in Waukegan (near Skokie Highway and Casimir Pulaski Drive—just west of Greenbelt Forest Preserve).
  • More than 23,000 people live within areas at risk from ethylene oxide emitted at the Vantage Specialty Chemicals plant in Gurnee (near Route 41 and Delaney Road).

What’s happening on ethylene oxide in Lake County

February 12, 2019: U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), along with U.S. Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), and Sean Casten (D-IL-06), introduced bills that would hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for its poor oversight of ethylene oxide emissions.

March 27, 2019: U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Carper (D-DE) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler seeking information related to the agency’s recent decision to question EPA career staff’s assessment of the health risks and political appointees’ handling of potentially illegal releases of ethylene oxide (EtO). They also requested documents shedding light on the Trump EPA’s enforcement efforts at the Sterigenics Illinois plant and its management of risks posed by EtO at facilities nationwide.

March 27, 2019: Celeste Flores and Diana Burdette testified in Washington, D.C., on the need to protect members of marginalized communities from toxic ethylene oxide emissions.

April 2, 2019: U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked the Department of Homeland Security to revise its characterization of ethylene oxide, as required under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard, as both flammable and explosive.

April 8, 2019: The Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center, City of Waukegan, and Village of Gurnee officials announced plans to hire one vendor to collect air quality samples from four sites near Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee and four sites near Medline Industries in Waukegan. Read more.

April 10, 2019: The Illinois Senate passed SB 1852, requiring facilities to alert nearby property owners and local government of ethylene oxide leaks, and SB 1854, restricting and testing for fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide.

April 12, 2019:  U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), spoke on the House floor regarding the need for ambient air testing of ethylene oxide in Waukegan and Gurnee so families can have confidence the air they and their children breathe is safe.

What is ethylene oxide?

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a colorless gas used in the manufacturing of several industrial chemicals and as a sterilizing agent for medical equipment and supplies. People can be exposed to EtO through direct inhalation, ingestion, or contact to the skin, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In December 2016, the U.S. EPA updated the risk status of ethylene oxide from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans.”

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