LITTLE VILLAGE — After a century-old smokestack at the old Crawford Coal Plant was intentionally knocked down Saturday morning, a photographer captured the ensuing dust cloud that enveloped him and others in the Little Village neighborhood.
The cloud angered neighborhood residents, who said the scheduled implosion, done with little notice to the neighborhood, should never have been allowed, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic that causes respiratory damage.
Pilsen resident Maclovio, who requested to be identified by his first name only, arrived in Little Village early Saturday to watch the demolition of the smokestack at the former coal plant site, 3501 S. Pulaski Road.
The photographer said he has been keeping tabs on the demolition of the old coal plant for the last three months. He set up in an alley of a residential block and watched as neighbors came outside to watch the demolition.
Just after 8 a.m. “there was a loud boom and it toppled down,” Maclovio said.
Minutes later, “a massive dust cloud” extended “at least six blocks from the site,” Maclovio said.
“When it was first coming, you couldn’t see in front of you,” the 28-year-old photographer said.
“I was caught in it. I wasn’t prepared for it so I made a makeshift mask. … My lungs started hurting, I’m not going to lie,” he said.
He continued to take photos 15 minutes after the smokestack was blown up until he started to see the dust subside.
But even as he rode his bike down 26th Street back towards Pilsen, he said he could still see dust particles.
“It went a pretty good distance, but wasn’t as thick,” he said.
Following the demolition, Maclovio posted the photos on his Instagram account that were widely circulated on Facebook and Twitter.
Despite community objections and calls for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to halt the planned implosion of the smokestack because of coronavirus is impacting the respiratory health of people across the globe, city officials permitted Hilco Redevelopment Partners to topple the smokestack Saturday.
Neighbors said they had no idea this was coming.
Lucky Camargo, a Little Village resident and member of a neighborhood group Mi Villita, said fliers were stuck in fences at some homes nearby, less than 24 hours in advance of the implosion. She found out from her brother.
“We get more notification with street cleaning, honestly,” she said. “Would this be happening in Lincoln Park or Lincoln Square? Would this [notification] method be used? I doubt it. This is further evidence of political inequality rooted in environmental racism that Little Village residents have had to endure time and time again.”
During a Saturday morning news conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was asked whether destroying the structure was a good idea during the global pandemic causing respiratory disease.
The mayor said “obviously” the decision to do this now was not made by the city, but said the city’s Department of Public Heath was “actively engaged with the owners of the property.” City agencies were making sure there were precautions in place so there was no more dust than a normal demo,” she said.
“[They] Continue to monitor the situation,” she said.
City officials and Hilco Redevelopment Partners told Block Club Chicago extensive dust mitigation efforts were being employed to prevent dust from leaving the site. The Chicago Fire Department was scheduled to be on hand for dust suppression, officials said.
Hilco spokeswoman Julia Sznewajs said abatement testing shows no presence of asbestos or lead in the smokestack. But she said she could not immediately produce those testing reports, and deferred questions to the city.
Following the implosion, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization posted aerial photos to social media showing dust several feet in the air.
Ahead of the demolition, the environmental justice group called on Lightfoot to intervene and stop the implosion.
Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said she learned of the planned implosion at 11 p.m. Thursday. Now is “not an appropriate time to expose over 75,000 people stuck in their homes to asbestos and lead,” she said before the smokestack was toppled.
The neighborhood already suffers from poor air quality from nearby industry, Wasserman said.
The century-old Crawford Power Plant was shut down in 2012 after community-led efforts raised concerns about the impact coal pollution was having on the health of Little Village residents.
Hilco’s redevelopment plan sparked anger among residents who feared the distribution center would bring more diesel trucks and increase pollution in the neighborhood.
After the project was approved by City Council, neighbors and activists called on the developer to install air monitors ahead of the demolition and remediation of the site.
Last year, neighbors and activists raised concerns about the health and safety of workers at the site. Those concerns were raised after a worker plummeted 50 feet to his death in December 2019.
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