Quick Hit Aaron Krager Thursday October 20th, 2011, 3:39pm

Pilsen Residents Continue Push For Clean Air In Chicago

To draw attention to Chicago's two coal-fired power plants, health experts and community organizations in the Pilsen neighborhood rallied around a 20-foot inflatable asthma inhaler last week at the Pilsen Elementary Community Academy. A Moble C.A.R.E. van offered children in attendance free asthma screenings while experts highlighted the dangers of pollution from Midwest Generation's Fisk & Crawford power plants in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods.

“We want to educate the community members and families living around these coal plants about the health issues they are dealing with due to the pollution,”  said Brian Urbaszewski of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “I hope that we were able to not only educate people, but also encourage them to take action and stand up to these polluters.”

Nationally, one in ten children suffer from asthma. The C.A.R.E. van tested 20 children from the neighborhood, just blocks from the Fisk power plant, and ten showed suggestive signs of asthma. Stephanie Whyte, medical director for the Mobile C.A.R.E Foundation, said the agency has 40 different sites in 25 neighborhoods along with two vans. The mobile health group acts as asthma specialists providing medicines to visitors, if needed, but does not replace primary care doctors. All ten children show showed signs of asthma at the recent testing in Pilsen will receive follow ups to begin treatment or further testing.

A 2010 study by the Clean Air Task Force revealed that pollution from Midwest Generation’s two plants leads to 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks, and 720 asthma attacks each year.

“Try breathing through a small straw like a coffee stirrer,” said Urbaszewski. “Jump around a bit, exercise, jog in place. Pinch your nose and breathe through the straw. You are going to feel dizzy, you might panic, you’ll want to gasp for air. That’s a good comparison for what people with asthma experience when they have an attack.”

Alderman Joe Moore’s Clean Power Ordinance sits in the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection despite vast city council support and positive public comments from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

“We are paying a health care cost as a city because of” the plants, he said. “I want them as a company to be a responsible citizen to the people of the city of Chicago.

“I’m happy there are jobs there. I got that, but those jobs should not come at the expense of the public health cost to our children and to our taxpayers. And I’m planning on having that conversation with them.”The mayor previously has stated he wants Midwest Generation to either install equipment to dramatically reduce pollution or convert to natural gas.

The proposed ordinance would require the two plants be converted to natural gas or shut down by 2018. Nationally, the Sierra Club is working on a goal of retiring one-third of all coal plants in the United States in the next five years. The organization says it is working with thousands of community organizations just like the one’s battling Midwest Generation in Pilsen and Little Village.

“We have the solution to make it easier for people to live every day and go about their every day lives,” said Mike Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “The solution is moving beyond coal.”

Concerned parents and residents formed various community organizations over the years to combat the pollution and environmental degradation in their neighborhoods. Many of the activists in attendance were mothers of children with asthma.

“These plants have been a nuisance to the public health of our communities for far too long,” said Kim Wasserman, mother of three and executive director of the Little Village Environmental Jusitice Organization. “Two of my kids have asthma, and they represent the struggle of an entire community. For over a decade, people in Chicago have been standing up to Midwest Generation and fighting for clean air and healthy communities. We want to make sure this issue gets the attention it deserves.”

Image: Sierra Club

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