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 Unpublished research by the University of Illinois at Chicago discovered higher levels of manganese in East Side children than in children in other Chicago neighborhoods.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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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.