The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun cleanup of brain-damaging lead contamination on the former site of Loewenthal Metals in Pilsen.
Jerry Mead-Lucero is an organizer with Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO). He says lead contamination of over over 400 parts per million (ppm) is a concern. On the Lowenthal site, they discovered lead levels levels as high as 23,000 ppm.
“Really we were quite shocked because that was off the charts from what we’ve seen before. And it’s very close to a school and very close to a community garden,” said Mead-Lucero.
Lead exposure is especially damaging to pregnant women and young children. PERRO says the EPA knew about the contamination of the soil as early as 2006, but they only responded after PERRO began to pressure them.
“If you are not making noise, it’s probably not going to get addressed, because the EPA has so much on its plate and only has limited resources. So it’s on the citizens part to make sure this stuff is getting attention,” said Mead-Lucero.
PERRO won the campaign to clean up the former lead smelting site after only 6 months of organizing. Mead-Lucero says the reason campaign was successful is at least in part due to their positive relationship with the federal EPA and the growing power of the environmental movement in Pilsen, which recently won a 10-year campaign to shut down the Fisk and Crawford coal plant.
The EPA expects the clean up to take about three months.
Shannon Heffernan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @shannon_h