Wednesday's meeting drew a large crowd of residents eager to hear from organizers and officials about what's being done to address their pollution concerns. Credit: Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago

PILSEN — Government officials pledged to do a health study and commit to efforts to reduce pollution on the Southwest Side, they told residents during a community meeting Wednesday.

Hundreds of neighbors gathered to hear from environmental officials and organizers about plans for a comprehensive health study to measure the impact of local industries on the area. The meeting came a month after activists delivered a letter to the Chicago EPA wherein Pilsen kids asked officials to protect them from pollution on the Southwest Side.

Theresa McNamara, an activist with the Southwest Environmental Alliance, told attendees the Southwest Side has became an acceptable place to dump pollution. She asked officials to restore the community’s “God-given right to breathe clean air.”

“It’s killing us,” she said. “Our children suffer from high rates of asthma. Our community has elevated rates of cancer, heat attacks, lung disease and birth defects. … Here, where we are working class, Mexican, Asian and Black, having all this pollution in our communities is environmental racism.”

Residents told officials from the Chicago Department of Public Health, and the state and federal environmental protection agencies they want a cumulative study to determine what effects pollution has had on the area. They also called on the agencies to take immediate action to reduce emissions from facilities, including Sims Metal Management, 2500 S. Paulina St.

Sims has faced heavy criticism in the past from environmental activists and was sued by the Illinois Attorney General’s office in the fall for allegedly breaking air pollution laws. It’s near three Pilsen schools.

Federal officials last week ordered Sims to install high-grade air monitors to measure pollution levels, the Sun-Times reported. The facility has two months to implement the monitors and report results to the EPA.

“We appreciate and respect concerns from our community members, and we are working toward making improvements with these community concerns in mind,” a Sims spokesperson said in a statement Thursday. “We are well underway with the plan as submitted in the city renewal application to install air monitors and weather station.”

Public health officials agreed to the community’s demands for the health study. They said they’ll do what they can to reduce pollution in the meantime, including installing more air monitors.

“I stand with you,” EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore said. “The EPA will step up at Sims and other facilities to make sure they are operating as they’re required to.”

Alds. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Mike Rodriguez (22nd), who attended the meeting, said they will work in City Hall toward a moratorium on polluting permits until the health study is conducted and reviewed.

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