South Side coal plants blamed for cancer, premature deaths
A smoggy demise
01/19/2011 10:00 PM
Leila Mendez, 52, says she listens to her body. So when doctors told her in 1998 to wait six months after she found a lump in her left breast, she instead insisted on getting it removed.
What doctors excised from her chest turned out to be a rare, aggressive tumor that she says would never have formed if she didn’t live just three blocks from the Crawford coal plant in Pilsen.
“If I had listened to the doctors and waited six months, I would have just died,” said Mendez, who has lived in Pilsen since she was 9 years old. “When doctors look at my files now, their eyes pop up and look at me because people don’t survive this type of tumor.”
Mendez’s concerns weren’t irrational. The Clean Air Task Force, a national nonprofit atmospheric pollution task force, estimated that 27 people died prematurely in 2010 because of emissions from Crawford. The task force said the annual mortality rate attributed to Crawford ranges from 25 to 75 persons.
Nearby Fisk plant in Little Village saw 15 premature deaths in 2010, the task force estimated. In Cook County there were 150 premature deaths and nearly 3,000 heart attacks attributable to existing power plants, the group said.
Both the Crawford and Fisk plants are owned by Chicago-based Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of Edison International.
“We do not believe our plants have any health effects,” said Susan Olavarria, director of governmental affairs and communications at Edison International. “We look at every complaint and we take them very seriously.”
Olavarria would not comment on the mortality rates made by the Clean Air Task Force.
“We are working with different aldermen to get them to support the Clean Power Ordinance,” said Rose Gomez, a volunteer at Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, who said the plants don’t use the latest technologies. “We want them to raise their standards and use gas instead of coal.”
According to Gomez, the 12th, 23rd and 25th Wards are most impacted by the emissions. She said at least one alderman does not support coal reform — Danny Solis (25th).
“In this economic recession, which is the worst since the Great Depression, he’s not comfortable [shutting down the plant],” said Maya Solis, the alderman’s spokeswoman. “If we shut it down, there are 200 to 300 union jobs that are laid off.”
Mendez said she never used illicit drugs or drank alcohol. She was a vegetarian and took care of her body. Now, she has continued health problems. Her sister has thyroid cancer and her parents suffer from severe allergies.
“People ask me why I don’t move,” she said. “It doesn’t just affect me because I live here in Pilsen. It affects the world.”