PUB­LIC HOUS­ING RES­I­DENTS KEPT IN DARK ABOUT TOXIC SITES, RE­PORT FINDS

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BRETT CHASE RE­PORTS,

Ch­eryl John­son grew up in a com­mu­nity so pol­luted it be­came known as the toxic doughnut be­cause of the hun­dreds of en­vi­ron­men­tal threats around her home at Alt­geld Gar­dens pub­lic hous­ing on the far South Side.

Alt­geld Gar­dens and nearby Trum­bull Park, both Chicago Hous­ing Au­thor­ity de­vel­op­ments, are within a short drive of the Lake Calumet Clus­ter, an al­most 90-acre site of for­mer toxic-waste dumps. De­spite the best ef­forts of John­son, who con­tin­ues an ac­tivist cam­paign started by her late mother, Hazel, the gov­ern­ment has yet to com­plete a decades-long cleanup.

A new re­port finds that the gov­ern­ment has been slow to clean up toxic sites near pub­lic hous­ing and has failed to in­form res­i­dents about the threats they face or give them a say on fu­ture uses of re­me­di­ated land. Fed­eral and lo­cal hous­ing au­thor­i­ties and the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency should do a bet­ter job of pro­tect­ing res­i­dents’ health, the re­port says.

“A con­flu­ence of his­toric poli­cies and prac­tices have en­cour­aged the con­struc­tion of fed­er­ally as­sisted hous­ing in ar­eas of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­na­tion and have also en­abled the pol­lut­ing in­dus­try to be built near ex­ist­ing low-in­come hous­ing,” said the re­port, Poi­sonous Homes, led by the Shriver Cen­ter on Poverty Law.

The study notes that it looks at only a slice of poor com­mu­ni­ties that are in pol­luted ar­eas. Still, across the coun­try, tens of thou­sands of fam­i­lies liv­ing in fed­er­ally as­sisted hous­ing also hap­pen to live close to some of the worst haz­ardous-waste sites des­ig­nated for cleanup. That’s the case with Alt­geld Gar­dens and Trum­bull as well as nearby West Calumet hous­ing com­plex across the bor­der in East Chicago, In­di­ana. Com­bined, the two Chicago sites have more than 2,400 apart­ments.

En­sur­ing that res­i­dents near toxic-waste cleanup sites “have the in­for­ma­tion and tools they need to par­tic­i­pate in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process is a cor­ner­stone of our pro­gram,” an EPA spokes­woman said in a state­ment. “We wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to ad­vance our com­mit­ment to com­mu­nity in­volve­ment and en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice.”

One of the re­searchers dis­puted the agency’s as­ser­tion.

“Our re­search demon­strates that time and time again, EPA and the par­ties fi­nan­cially re­spon­si­ble for these sites have not pro­vided in­for­ma­tion to mem­bers of the pub­lic in a timely, com­pre­hen­sive and un­der­stand­able man­ner,” said study coau­thor Mark Tem­ple­ton, direc­tor of the Abrams En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Clinic at the Univer­sity of Chicago. “Fail­ure to do so has put pub­lic health and safety at risk.”

The Abrams clinic and Earthjus­tice

part­nered with Shriver to pro­duce the study.

In a state­ment, the Chicago Hous­ing Au­thor­ity said it “con­ducts all nec­es­sary en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment pro­ce­dures out­lined” by fed­eral law. The agency also noted that the city’s Depart­ment of As­sets, In­for­ma­tion and Ser­vices per­forms en­vi­ron­men­tal eval­u­a­tions on CHA prop­er­ties, which are shared with res­i­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

In a sep­a­rate state­ment, the fed­eral Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment, which funds CHA, said its “pri­mary con­cern is the health and well-be­ing of pub­lic hous­ing res­i­dents.”

Hous­ing au­thor­i­ties need to work bet­ter with EPA and with res­i­dents on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, John­son said.

“It’s sad that we have to prove to the gov­ern­ment some­thing that they al­ready knew,” said John­son, who leads the group her mother founded, Peo­ple for Com­mu­nity Re­cov­ery.

John­son’s mother, Hazel, was a fierce ad­vo­cate for poor peo­ple who suf­fer from toxic con­tam­i­na­tion, a fight that brought na­tional at­ten­tion to the prob­lem. Hazel John­son’s

work led to an ex­ec­u­tive or­der by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton in 1994 to rec­og­nize so-called en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice com­mu­ni­ties, mi­nor­ity and low-in­come ar­eas dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by pol­lu­tion.

The Alt­geld Gar­dens row houses were built in 1945 as a hous­ing devel­op­ment ini­tially for Black vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies and was sur­rounded by dozens of land­fills, hun­dreds of un­der­ground chem­i­cal-stor­age tanks and other in­dus­trial haz­ards, the Shriver re­port notes. It was Hazel who coined the term toxic doughnut.

The nearby Lake Calumet Clus­ter is a site that in­cludes at least three for­mer haz­ardous-waste stor­age fa­cil­i­ties and a for­mer waste in­cin­er­a­tor, EPA records show. It’s on a list of sites for high-pri­or­ity cleanup, but that des­ig­na­tion was made 10 years ago af­ter decades of com­plaints and study. While some toxic ma­te­ri­als have been re­moved, it’s un­clear when the site will be com­pletely re­me­di­ated.

‘A hor­rific smell’

At nearby Trum­bull Park, built in 1938, res­i­dents are kept in the dark about en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, said a long­time leader at the hous­ing site.

“At Trum­bull Park, ev­ery sum­mer, there’s a hor­rific smell,” said Myra King, pres­i­dent of the hous­ing devel­op­ment’s lo­cal ad­vi­sory coun­cil. “You can’t walk down the street with­out cov­er­ing your nose and mouth.”

King says she and oth­ers have com­plained to CHA but have never got­ten an an­swer on the source of the smell.

“CHA may write back and say some­thing like ‘we’re work­ing with EPA’ or some­thing like that,” King said. “Res­i­dents are furious about that smell.”

“A CON­FLU­ENCE OF HIS­TORIC POLI­CIES AND PRAC­TICES HAVE EN­COUR­AGED THE CON­STRUC­TION OF FED­ER­ALLY AS­SISTED HOUS­ING IN AR­EAS OF EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL CON­TAM­I­NA­TION AND HAVE ALSO EN­ABLED THE POL­LUT­ING IN­DUS­TRY TO BE BUILT NEAR EX­IST­ING LOW-IN­COME HOUS­ING.” RE­PORT

AN­THONY VAZQUEZ/SUN-TIMES

Ch­eryl John­son talks to neigh­bors in Alt­geld Gar­dens, Wed­nes­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.