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Stepping Out of the Shadows

What's it like to live in the shadow of a smokestack?

Ask Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and a resident of Chicago's Little Village neighborhood—a culturally vibrant area on the city's west side that many, including Wasserman, refer to as the "Mexican capital of the Midwest."

Wasserman and her family live less than one mile from the Crawford coal-fired power plant, which is owned by Midwest Generation. The same company owns another plant in Chicago, the Fisk, which is in the Pilsen neighborhood in the northeast part of the city. Pollution from these two plants has galvanized strong calls from grassroots groups—LVEJO, PERRO and others—for the plants to clean up their dirty ways. Wasserman makes the call beautifully in an op-ed published today in the Chicago Tribune.

It begins:

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.

As the Environmental Protection Agency prepares to finalize the first ever standards to control toxic air pollutants from power plants, Wasserman's powerful personal story is a reminder that uncontrolled pollution has a real impact on real people in Chicago and hundreds of other communities across the country.

Ultimately, the issue of air pollution boils down to responsibility. A company that puts pollution into the air—and into our lungs and bodies—should be responsible for the damage that results. The most powerful lines in the piece sums this up well: "…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."

Agreed. Let's hope the process of holding Fisk, Crawford and hundreds of other coal plants across the country responsible for their pollution gets a boost when the EPA issues its final toxic air standards for power plants on December 16th.

Note on photo: LVEJO's Ian Viteri, pictured holding a photo of a banner draped across Crawford's gates, participated last May in the event 50 States United for Healthy Air. Read his story and learn more about his work.