LITTLE VILLAGE — A South Side environmental group is pushing for better pollution controls, an apology from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the release of a full watchdog report that called on a city official to be punished or fired for their role in the 2020 botched implosion site that left Little Village covered in dust.
As a news conference Thursday, members of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization criticized the Chicago Department of Public Health for refusing to discipline an official involved in the mishandled demolition. They also slammed Lightfoot for refusing to publicize detailed findings about the implosion from the city’s Office of the Inspector General.
In a report summarizing its investigation into the botched demolition, the Office of the Inspector General pointed the finger at three city officials — including one senior public health department employee. The watchdog said that official should be disciplined or fired for failing to act on knowledge the implosion would be disastrous. Health department leaders instead gave that person a written reprimand.
Two officials from the Department of Buildings also won’t receive any punishment, though the report had recommended it.
Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village group, pushed back on the city’s assurance that guidelines are being adopted to ensure a similar incident won’t happen again. Wasserman also rejected the city’s claims that the blame for the implosion rests solely on the developers.
“You can’t check and balance an environmental disaster caused by environmental racism and the staff who uphold it,” Wasserman said. “We demand an apology from Mayor Lightfoot for what happened that day on April 11, knowing that the city mishandled that botched implosion.”
Wasserman also said money the city received from Hilco in fines should be allocated toward installing permanent and publicly accessible air monitoring around the site, which now houses a Target warehouse. She also said the city should conduct soil sampling.
Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd), whose ward includes the implosion site, said the city needs to be more transparent about its mistakes by releasing the full inspector general report. Lightfoot has said municipal codes bar City Hall from releasing it, but Rodriguez disputes that.
“Good government should be about transparency and accountability,” Rodriguez said. “We need to restore justice to Little Village residents and neighbors.”
Rodriguez also said the disciplinary measures outlined in the inspector general’s report were “too little.”
In a statement, Department of Public Health leaders called the implosion “an unacceptable event” and said the contractor “failed the Little Village community.” But department officials stood behind their decision not to punish the senior official.
“We are focused on system improvements, and although we do not find that any individual acted willfully or negligently, or violated any departmental or City rules, [the health department] has taken the opportunity to reinforce with our personnel that they are expected to act at all times to perform their tasks safely, and that bar is particularly high when an event presents known risks to a community,” the statement read.
Department leaders also said the city has already adopted new rules requiring contractors to document environmental conditions related to the property, removal of regulated materials such as asbestos or lead, dust mitigation plans and more.
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