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EPA to Test Southeast Chicago Yards for Dangerous Neurotoxin

Health + Wellness
High manganese levels were detected last year in air around S.H. Bell's South Avenue "O" facility. Google Maps

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would start testing the soil in residential yards in Chicago's Southeast Side for the dangerous neurotoxin manganese, The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday.

The EPA will also explain the soil sampling at a community discussion from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday.


The yards to be tested are located in a low-income, majority Latino neighborhood near a storage facility belonging to S.H. Bell Co.

According to The Chicago Tribune, the EPA's recent decision comes after the Chicago Department of Public Health tested 27 yards on the city's East Side and found that 70 percent of them had manganese levels above state safety limits. Most of the contaminated yards were close to the S.H. Bell storage terminal.

Manganese exposure can cause a disorder called manganism that has Parkinson's-like symptoms. Children exposed to manganese near an S.H. Bell plant in Liverpool, Ohio were found to have lower I.Q. scores and difficulties with learning and memory. Unpublished research by the University of Illinois at Chicago discovered higher levels of manganese in East Side children than in children in other Chicago neighborhoods.

Local activists sent a letter Monday to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health Julie Morita calling for more action to fight manganese pollution in the neighborhood located along the highly industrialized Calumet River.

"The state and federal regulatory agencies and the City of Chicago departments have not applied the lens of environmental injustice—the inequitable exposure of communities of color, and communities in poverty, to environmental risks—so that we can adequately address the ongoing cumulative impacts of years of exposure to petroleum coke, manganese, diesel emissions, abandoned piles of arc and flue ash and many other dangerous sources of fugitive dust and pollution," the letter said.

The letter writers, representing the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, Moms Clean Air Force, National Nurses United-Illinois and the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the testing efforts but also called for more immediate action. They asked the city to issue a temporary ban of manganese handling in the neighborhood; develop a more comprehensive understanding of the risks associated with manganese exposure; pause all new industrial permits in the area until they can develop a set of pollution-preventing rules, taking into account community viewpoints; and hold a June 30 meeting with various Chicago authorities explaining the pollution problem and developing a clear response.

S.H. Bell, which was cited by the EPA for Clean Air Act violations last year after air monitors detected high manganese levels in air around the site, said in a statement to The Chicago Tribune that they had made improvements to mitigate air pollution and that they were only one of more than two dozen Southeast Side facilities that handle manganese.

"S.H. Bell has gone above and beyond compliance with every regulation imposed by the EPA and the city of Chicago," the statement said. "Focusing on our company while ignoring other known emitters of manganese and other heavy metals will not improve the environment of the city's Southeast Side."

At least three other industrial sites on the Calumet River are also being investigated, The Chicago Tribune reported.

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Aerial view of Ruropolis, Para state, northen Brazil, on Sept. 6, 2019. Tthe world's biggest rainforest is under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation. JOHANNES MYBURGH / AFP via Getty Images

By Kate Martyr

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest last month jumped to the highest level since records began in 2015, according to government data.

A total of 563 square kilometers (217.38 square miles) of the world's largest rainforest was destroyed in November, 103% more than in the same month last year, according to Brazil's space research agency.

From January to November this year an area almost the size of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico was destroyed — an 83% overall increase in destruction when compared with the same period last year.

The figures were released on Friday by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and collected through the DETER database, which uses satellite images to monitor forest fires, forest destruction and other developments affecting the rainforest.

What's Behind the Rise?

Overall, deforestation in 2019 has jumped 30% compared to last year — 9,762 square kilometers (approximately 3769 square miles) have been destroyed, despite deforestation usually slowing during November and December.

Environmental groups, researchers and activists blamed the policies of Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro for the increase.

They say that Bolosonaro's calls for the Amazon to be developed and his weakening support for Ibama, the government's environmental agency, have led to loggers and ranchers feeling safer and braver in destroying the expansive rainforest.

His government hit back at these claims, pointing out that previous governments also cut budgets to environment agencies such as Ibama.

The report comes as Brazil came to loggerheads with the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) over climate goals during the UN climate conference in Madrid.

AOSIS blasted Brazil, among other nations, for "a lack of ambition that also undermines ours."

Last month, a group of Brazilian lawyers called for Bolsonaro to be investigated by the International Criminal Court over his environmental policies.

Reposted with permission from DW.

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