COVID Amplifies Environmental Injustice in Chicago

Health + Wellness

Demonstrators in a car caravan gather across from the shuttered Crawford Power Generating Station in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago as part of an Earth Day to May Day action on April 22, 2020, after the demolition of a smoke stack blanketed the surrounding neighborhood in dust during the COVID-19 pandemic. Max Herman / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Southwest Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood is one of the city’s most polluted neighborhoods and has also been ravaged by the novel coronavirus, Grist reports, yet another stark instance in which the pandemic has illuminated and exacerbated existing environmental injustices.

The immigrant-rich neighborhood has been pummeled by COVID-19. At one point last November, one in nine Little Village residents had a confirmed case of COVID-19 and residents in two of its ZIP codes were 15 times more likely to die from it than those living in the overwhelmingly white Near Northside neighborhood just over half-a-dozen miles away.

Due to the legacy of a coal plant (the demolition of which caused an air pollution crisis itself) and other polluting industries, Little Village also suffers from among the highest levels of cumulative pollution burden in the city, far higher than the overwhelmingly white downtown neighborhoods just a handful of miles away. COVID-19 has pummeled the community, in mid-November, one in nine Little Village residents had a confirmed case of COVID-19.

“The question is always: why aren’t resources going towards the communities that need it?” said José Acosta-Córdova, an environmental planning and research organizer at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. “And in Chicago, environmental justice is where all of the struggles — economic justice, racial justice, immigration, labor issues — meet.”

As reported by Grist:

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the toll decades of environmental injustices have taken on poorer communities of color. That’s something the Biden administration has signaled it wants to work on: On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order creating a new White House council on environmental justice, and pledged that 40 percent of the benefits from federal investments in clean energy and clean water would go to communities that bear disproportionate pollution.

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