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Get the Lead Out! (of the air around Perez School)

By JoshMogerman in News on Apr 2, 2011 7:00PM

Fisk Generating Station ["now that's eerie" image by CarlynAnnCrispell]
Lead. In the tiniest amounts, studies show it damages brain development in children. That's why we have taken it out of our gasoline and paint. And it is why the news from Pilsen particularly bad. Monitoring data shows dangerous levels of lead in the air around Perez elementary school at or above federal limits with spikes more than 10 times higher. The Trib’s crack environmental reporter Michael Hawthorne exposed the numbers that “alarm even veteran investigators” in a front-page story which could have significant political impact both locally and nationally. Officials are unsure of exactly where the lead is coming from, but a quick look around the neighborhood points to two likely cluprits. The school is just blocks from the H. Kramer and Co. smelter and the Fisk Generating Station (one of two ancient coal plants in Chicago owned by Midwest Generation, LLC); both have been cited by the US EPA for significant Clean Air Act violations in recent years.

The Fisk coal plant gotten plenty of notoriety of late, with renewed attention to its high air pollution levels in the Trib and New York Times helping to motivate the City Council to get involved. The Clean Power Ordinance has languished in committee, but City Hall watchers note that the recent election may have delivered enough votes to push the municipal effort to force coal plants within the City limits to clean up or close down. The issue loomed large in the 25th Ward race where Pilsen incumbent Danny Solis abruptly ended years of opposition to the Ordinance on election night, when it became clear he faced a runoff. While the Fisk plant is not the only suspect in this newest pollution fiasco, the story seems likely to bolster the case for the Clean Power Ordinance in the eyes of many Chicagoans. And, it probably doesn't help Solis just days before the runoff election...

The issue could also come into play nationally, where the Illinois delegation will have to vote on a wide range of bills and budget riders in the coming weeks as some in Congress seem to have declared war on the EPA and Clean Air Act. The lead levels in Pilsen could bring the importance of pollution and health protections home in a city like Chicago where the Trib points out the Fisk and H. Kramer facilities spewed out lead at a rate of nearly 40 and over 60 times other facilities in a twenty mile radius.