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.  

CPLC: 2020 Highlights

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After the year we just had, the term “2020 vision” will never sound quite the same. 

2020 brought more than its share of tragedies and challenges, yet Clean Power Lake County (CPLC) had moments worth celebrating. We’re excited to share some of these moments with you because they highlight the many ways our supporters continue to show up to fight for environmental justice in Lake County. 

January 

  • January 6: CPLC joined Illinois Communities for Coal Ash Cleanup to comment on the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s draft rules for coal ash impoundments. 
  • January 6: The Waukegan City Council passed a resolution to support Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). The resolution recognized that environmental risks and burdens fall disproportionately on communities of color—and that these burdens cumulatively contribute to climate change. CPLC supports CEJA as a solution to both environmental racism and climate change at the local level.
  • January 14: CPLC co-chair Celeste Flores traveled to Texas for EPA public hearings on the proposed Miscellaneous Organic Chemical Manufacturing rule. The proposed rule included regulations on ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions. Representatives of environmental justice organizations from across the nation attended the hearings. 
  • January 20: CPLC co-chair and Mano a Mano Executive Director Dulce Ortiz received a Drum Major Award from Waukegan Township. Announced on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the awards recognize people who stand up for human rights and civil rights in their personal and professional lives.
  • January 21: CPLC joined other members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC) at a press conference to demand that legislators block Trump-backed fossil fuel bailouts. ICJC said the bailouts exacerbate climate change, pollution, and energy inequity.
  • January 21: The public finally learned that Medline Industries in Waukegan had initiated a temporary shutdown of EtO operations on December 13.
  • January 27: CPLC helped deliver 38,000 petitions from Illinois residents urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to pass CEJA. Colin Byers of Waukegan spoke on our behalf. He was accompanied by Steering Committee members Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, Eddie Sandoval, and Celeste Flores.
  • January 29: Gov. J.B. Pritzker mentioned clean energy as a priority during his State of the State address. (Let’s continue to urge the governor to act on this priority in 2021; see actions at the end of this post.)

February

  • February 4: Co-chair Celeste Flores attended the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., as a guest of Sen. Tammy Duckworth to help shine a light on environmental justice and “raise awareness of the fact that these communities face public health challenges at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way.”
  • February 18: CPLC signed a joint organization letter calling on the EPA to reduce EtO and other emissions from chemical plants to decrease the risk of cancer.
  • February 21: Co-chair Dulce Ortiz spoke at an Illinois House Public Utilities Committee hearing, urging legislators to protect communities against the harmful impacts of continued fossil fuel bailouts by passing CEJA and growing an equitable clean energy economy.

March

April  

May

August

  • August 11: CPLC joined national environmental justice organizations in sending a letter to the EPA opposing attempts to undermine the independent scientific standard for EtO.
  • August 12-13: Ten CPLC volunteers delivered public comments at the first of two sets of coal ash hearings hosted by the Illinois Pollution Control Board. 

September

October

  • October 7: Anticipating that CEJA might come up for a vote during the scheduled veto session, CPLC partnered with ICJC to create a video with our perspective on the need for CJEA.  Although the veto session was cancelled, the video remains a strategic tool to help move legislators during the next session.
  • October 31: As of this date, 1,712 people had signed a joint Sierra Club/Faith in Place/Eco-Justice Collaborative/CARE petition calling for strong coal ash rules. More than 310 petitions contained personalized messages.

November

December

Last, but not least

  • CPLC, partnering with the Illinois Environmental Council Education Fund, launched the “Support CPLC” fundraising campaign. Proceeds will help us ramp up public work to transition northeastern Lake County toward a clean, sustainable future and to fight environmental injustice in our community. As of today, we are more than halfway toward our $30K goal. To support CPLC, please make a gift here.

2021 vision

We predict that CEJA will pass in 2021—with your help! So we must tell our elected officials to pass CEJA now!

We have much justice work to do this year. Despite 2021’s disturbing start, we look forward to continuing this work, together, to create a more livable, more just world.  

CPLC Co-chair Will Attend State of the Union Address as Sen. Duckworth’s Guest

Senator Tammy Duckworth with Celeste and Yolanda Flores of Waukegan.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth welcomes Celeste Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, and her mother, Yolanda Flores, to the U.S. Capitol. Celeste will attend the State of the Union address on February 4 as the senator’s guest. [Photo courtesy of Sen. Tammy Duckworth]

Celeste Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County and Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place, will attend the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on February 4 as the guest of Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

“Every American has the right to breathe safe air, drink clean water and live on uncontaminated land regardless of their ZIP code, the size of their wallet and the color of their skin. However, that’s often not the case for low-income communities and people of color,” Duckworth said.

“I’m so pleased to bring Celeste—a tireless advocate for environmental justice—as my guest to the State of the Union so together, we can shine a light on these issues and raise awareness of the fact that these communities face public health challenges at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way,” Duckworth added.

Flores, who was born and raised in Lake County, saw the devastation of mountaintop removal while a student at Bellarmine University in Kentucky. After graduating from college and spending a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Appalachia, she returned to Lake County. It was then that she learned about local environmental justice efforts to ensure Waukegan a just transition away from the coal-fired plant on the shore of Lake Michigan.

In November 2019, Flores participated in a Senate hearing—chaired by Duckworth and organized by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis—about the ways climate change uniquely impacts environmental justice communities.

“Growing up in Waukegan, a low-income and working-class area, and as a child of immigrant parents in a predominantly Latinx and African American community, I’ve seen firsthand how environmental justice communities in Lake County carry the burden of polluting industries and are forced to deal with the consequences of environmental injustice for generations,” said Flores.

“The time to act is now,” Flores added. “By joining together with elected officials like Sen. Duckworth, who has been a staunch advocate for environmental justice, we can lift up the voices of those disproportionally affected and achieve our shared vision for social change that is led by those most directly impacted.”

 

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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