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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

What Was In Dust Cloud That Covered Little Village? City Aims To Release Report This Week, Lightfoot Says

The Hilco CEO was "embarrassed and contrite ... and has committed to full cooperation with us to get to the bottom of this," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

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CHICAGO — As Little Village neighborhood worry about a dust cloud that covered their homes Saturday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a report on what the dust cloud contained could be released this week.

Speaking at a press conference Monday, Lightfoot said preliminary results from the city’s investigation into the dust cloud would be released in the coming days. City crews have been working since Saturday, when “unacceptable” dust clouds covered Little Village after a planned implosion at the old Crawford Coal Plant, to collect residue, Lightfoot said.

Activists had begged the city not to allow the demolition, but it instead proceeded with representatives from the city’s Department of Health, Buildings and Fire Department on hand to watch.

RELATED: Planned Explosion Covered Little Village In Dust During Respiratory Pandemic — Why Did The City Let It Happen?

According to reports the city received from developer Hilco before the demolition, there was nothing to “suggest asbestos would have been a problem,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Health. But the city is collecting more information and samples to ensure remediation was done properly, Arwady said.

The city is also working with the Illinois Environmental Agency to install air quality monitors in the area.

On Saturday, Hilco Redevelopment Partners and its contractor Controlled Demolition Inc. imploded a century-old smokestack, coating the majority Latino neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side in dust. The demolition happened with little notice and in the middle of a respiratory pandemic on Easter weekend.

Credit: Maclovio/ instagram@macnifying_glass
Little Village streets were covered in dust following demolition of a smokestack at the site early Saturday morning.

Lightfoot issued a stop work order at the site and promised to investigate. In additions to air quality tests and soil testing, city crews were distributing masks to nearby residents Sunday.

Block Club Chicago has requested remediation reports be made public.

Alds. Daniel LaSpata (1st), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) were among a dozen aldermen asking the city’s Inspector General to investigate the demolition approval and the city’s communication with neighborhood before the implosion.

Lightfoot said requesting the investigation is the aldermen’s right.

“If the aldermen want to have the inspector general engaged, have at it. But I’m not gonna wait for an inspector general report. We started our work literally on Saturday, worked all through the weekend, and that work is ongoing,” she said.

Neighbors have criticized Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), the freshman alderman who represents the area, for failing to notify them about the city-approved implosion.

Lightfoot said Rodriguez had been “very much engaged in this about 10 days out or longer.”

“My understanding is he had a lot of direct contact with the CEO of Hilco,” Lightfoot said of Rodriguez.

Lightfoot said it is her understanding “both the contractor and the local alderman did give a heads up to nearby residents in advance of Saturday morning; but again, we’re gonna make sure we understand all of those details.”

Several residents told Block Club they received a flier at 8 p.m. Friday, 12 hours before the implosion, while others in the 3200 Block South Harding said they weren’t notified at all.

Rodriguez said Hilco was “disingenuous” about its effort to keep the dust at bay, and “dishonest” about giving residents adequate warning.

“At this point, I wish I would have alerted residents but I didn’t, and for that I’m very sorry,” he said.

Rodriguez previously told Block Club that he had heard earlier in the week of the implosion. During a press conference Saturday, Rodriguez said he first learned about the implosion on April 2 from Hilco. The freshman said he demanded Hilco Redevelopment Partners notify residents. 

Credit: Alejandro Reyes/YouTube
A drone video showed how the dust cloud spread from the Crawford demolition site and descended onto Little Village homes.

Lightfoot said Hilco Redevelopment Partners made assurances that were not kept.

Hilco’s CEO was “embarrassed and contrite … and has committed to full cooperation with us to get to the bottom of this. … That’s a bare minimum of responsibility we have to accept,” Lightfoot said.

Hilco CEO Roberto Perez released a statement pointing blame at the company’s contractor.

“We are working cooperatively with the City of Chicago to review yesterday’s demolition event undertaken by our contractor,” Perez said. “We are sensitive to the concerns of the community and we will continue to work in full cooperation.”

Controlled Demolition, Inc., the project’s subcontractor, deferred all questions to Hilco.  

“Per our contract all questions are supposed to go to them,” a representative told Block Club.

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