Residents and advocacy groups in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood are looking for answers after a smoke stack demolition released a cloud of dust that blanketed the area.
Chicago Alderman Michael Rodriguez was one of several leaders facing those questions on Sunday, and he said that the release of dust into the air during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic simply exacerbated the anxiety that residents are feeling about the disease.
“The fear residents feel over COVID-19 have only been exacerbated by this situation. I will do everything in my power to make sure this situation is addressed,” he said.
On Saturday, Hilco Redevelopment Partners conducted a scheduled and previously approved implosion of a smoke stack at the now-closed Crawford Power Generating Station. The smoke stack was successfully imploded, but the demolition released a large plume of dust into the air, which then settled on homes, vehicles and businesses throughout Little Village.
Now, facing questions about why the city permitted the implosion to move forward, Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the company had been issued permits with the expectation that they would control dust at the site, but that they failed to do so.
“Hilco made repeated assurances that they could do the implosion of the smoke stack and contain the dust to the site itself,” she said. “Based on that they were allowed to proceed forward. Something went horribly wrong yesterday, and that is the core issue of the investigation.”
Now, residents are asking serious questions about any potential air quality issues due to the dust, and the Chicago Department of Public Health has undertaken aggressive sampling and testing of the dust, along with air quality tests around the neighborhood.
The company has been in communication with the city while they’ve been cleaning up the former power plant site, and the company has indicated that it has worked to ensure that toxic substances, such as asbestos, have been safely removed from the site.
“I would not have major concern at this point, based on what we know, but investigations are ongoing. I would encourage the residents of Little Village to pay attention, especially if they have underlying conditions, if they aren’t feeling well,” Dr. Allison Arwady, director of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said.
To help further alleviate those concerns, Lightfoot announced that masks will be distributed to all residents affected by the dust. The city is also issuing citations to the company for failing to control dust, and is demanding that the company clean up the mess.
The city’s Department of Buildings has placed a hold on non-emergency demolitions in the wake of the incident.
Even with those moves in place, Lightfoot understands the fears of a community now facing a potential air quality challenge during the fight against a virus that impacts a patient’s ability to breathe.
“I know the significant health disparities that Little Village faces, just like many other communities,” she said. “When you see a dust cloud from a demolition roll across homes and businesses is simply outrageous.”