Cook County in a Haze

The Second City is second to none in air pollution

Chicago's restaurants and bars may be smoke-free now, but our air sure isn't. In fact, Chicago is one of the most polluted cities in the U.S.

According to the Chicago Tribune's analysis of data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cook County ranked worst in the nation for dangerous air pollution as of 2005. A steel mill in Lincoln Park reports the highest risk in Chicago, while nearby Will, DuPage, and Lake Counties have 15 of the region's worst polluting factories.

If the info was gathered in 2005, why are we just hearing about this now? The Tribune reports that the EPA has failed to make its research more readily available to the public, so the newspaper posted the information on its own Web site.

Unfortunately, most of the air pollution levels in Chicago are legal under federal laws and regulations. But just because the polluters are legal doesn't make them safe. Research indicates that the heavy chemicals many factories expel into the air have been linked to asthma attacks, cancer, and learning disabilities. Also, federal officials admit that current guidelines don't take into account the collective risk of multiple factories in one area, which is certainly the case for Chicago and northwestern Indiana.

Cook County had the worst air quality four times between 2000 and 2005. The EPA had created the database in the hopes that companies would clean up their act voluntarily. However, with results like these, it appears that more aggressive tactics may have to be put into place.

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