Fighting for a breath of fresh air
From the Chicago Tribune:
I'm Peter's mom. He's that 6-year-old on those ads on the "L" trains or on billboards around town. You know, the one with the inhaler, the one he's been using since he was 3. That makes him luckier than his older brother Anthony, who developed his asthma at 3 months. When Anthony had his first asthma attack, I didn't know much about it. When he was struggling to breathe you could see his little rib cage. I learned that that was a telltale sign.
Peter's asthma began with a cough that wouldn't go away. Now that he's been diagnosed, we've had to learn what his "triggers" are. Unfortunately, he has a really tough time on bad ozone days or when it's really humid and really hot. While other families are able to go to the zoo or the park, my kids can't. It's very hard to explain to a 6-year-old who wants to do nothing but play outside that he can't because the air quality isn't good enough.Nationwide, 1 in 10 kids has asthma. We live less than a mile away from one of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants; 1 in 4 Chicagoans lives within three miles of one. Until recently, lots of folks here didn't even know what the plant was; a lot of the young people thought it was a car factory. All you see is white smoke coming out of the stacks. It turns out that the coal for the plant comes from Wyoming, the power is sold out of state, and the profits go to a company in California. The only thing we get is asthma attacks.
We love Little Village, "the Mexican capital of the Midwest." It's a great neighborhood, even if the public transit isn't the best and we have only one park. But it's our neighborhood and we make it work to the best of our abilities. Children know all about the coal plant now; they understand that the reason they can't breathe is the stuff spewing out of the plant.
I'm not saying that Fisk and Crawford caused my sons' asthma. After all, there's industry everywhere in our community — it's a regular toxic soup. But Fisk and Crawford depend on outdated technology, and they're impacting my environment more than anyone else. I don't necessarily blame them for causing my kids' asthma, but I do blame them for making it worse.
My husband Stan and I are also trying to do our best by our kids. We try to make sure they eat healthy food and get lots of physical activity to strengthen their lungs. But we can only do so much. After that it falls on our city, state and federal government to provide Peter and Anthony and all the other little kids with a clean environment. That's why I got into my line of work with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
Despite the name, this isn't just an "environmental" issue. This isn't just "We hate coal." It's a family and a community issue. Our kids have the right to breathe clean air, and the owners of Fisk and Crawford need to be held responsible for the damage they're doing.
That's why we are demanding that Fisk and Crawford either be cleaned up or shut down. By clean, we mean finding some fuel other than coal to make energy. (Our community also knows that there's no such thing as "clean coal.") The company is trying to scare people about job losses by talking about "shutdown," but that's a red herring. We can replace coal with clean energy solutions like wind and solar. We're coming to the table in favor of transitioning workers to something else. But it has to be something else.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has spoken out against the plants in the past; "We are paying a health care cost as a city because of" the plants, he said. "I want them as a company to be a responsible citizen to the people of the city of Chicago." Now's the chance to do something about it, so Peter can finally get outside and play.
Kim Wasserman is executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.