A screen capture from part 2 of the "Environmental Justice and Neighborhood Schools in Chicago" study from the University of Illinois - Chicago's School of Public Health shows the relative burden of industrial roads in McKinley Park and nearby Community Areas.

McKinley Park Surrounded by Areas of Highest Industrial Burden

Published August 23, 2021

New assessments of industrial density show Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood surrounded by some of the most industrially burdened areas of the city in recently released analysis from environmental scientists at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC).

 
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In its latest study, the team led by Professor Michael Cailas and including UIC researchers Joel Flax-Hatch and Apostolis Sambanis analyzed four new subjects: toxic chemical releases, industrial roads, rail yards and brownfields.

 
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“We didn’t expect to see such bad results,” Cailas said. “It is a clear case of disparity. The distribution of burden is not random.”

The citywide study, segmented by Chicago Community Area, shows overwhelming concentrations of industry on Chicago’s South and West sides, overlapping closely with Latino residents and schoolchildren, which the study also tallied.

Part 2 of the "Environmental Justice and Neighborhood Schools in Chicago" study from the UIC School of Public Health analyzes the burdens of toxic hazards, industrial roads, rail yards and brownfields.

This second part of their study of “Environmental Justice and Neighborhood Schools in Chicago” follows a first that tallied toxic sites versus school populations, as previously reported here in the McKinley Park News, and a 2020 examination of local Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites, as also reported here in the McKinley Park News.

 
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Toxicity-Weighted Pounds

Measures of industrial burden in the latest study come from established, verifiable data sets, Cailas said, including the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicator (RSEI) Hazard for each U.S. federal TRI site.

This is also known as “toxicity-weighted pounds,” said the study, which compared sites’ RSEI hazards against their proximity to pubic schools to create a measure of hazard burden. Results showed high burdens in four Chicago Community Areas and medium-high hazard burdens for the Lower West Side and South Lawndale, both of which lie adjacent to the McKinley Park neighborhood.

Rail Yard Pollution

The six-plus-two freight rail yards in the Southwest Side study area are more concentrated than in any other area of Chicago, as shown in the UIC School of Public Healt map that also illustrates the percentage of Latino populations.The six-plus-two freight rail yards in the Southwest Side study area are more concentrated than in any other area of Chicago, as shown in the UIC School of Public Health map that also illustrates the percentage of Latino populations.The concentration of rail yards on the Southwest Side “is a major problem,” Cailas said. Although six freight rail hubs lie within City of Chicago boundaries on the Southwest Side and are included in study results, another two are just outside the city limits, also on the Southwest Side.

Cailas cited the 2007 “Health Risk Assessment for the Four Commerce Railyards” study from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board for its assessments of rail yard emissions. The study found that four rail yards emitted 41.8 tons of particulate matter from on-site diesel pollution per year.

 
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“It is likely that the diesel emission pollution is close to or above this alarming number” for the six-plus-two rail yards on the Southwest Side, Cailas said. His team has proposed a study to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to specifically measure rail yard pollution on Chicago’s Southwest Side, he said.

“We need to do an emissions inventory to tell what’s going on,” he said.

“You’re Surrounded”

Both the study and Cailas noted how rail yard emissions come from not just idling and in-transit diesel locomotives, but also the heavy equipment used to load and unload freight.

“Unfortunately for you, you’re surrounded,” Cailas said, relating how McKinley Park is impacted by airborne pollution from nearby rail yards like the Norfolk Southern Ashland Yard just south of the Central Manufacturing District and adjacent to the site of MAT Asphalt.

“It’s not MAT Asphalt,” Cailas said. “It’s something everyone is ignoring.”

 
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“The really worrying finding [from the study] is the rail yards,” Cailas said.

Industrial Roads

The burden of industrial roads falls most heavily on South Lawndale and the Lower West Side, which include the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods. The study tallied the length of sanctioned truck routes inside industrial corridors for each Community Area and then measured this against local student populations to establish a hazard measure.

Although the McKinley Park Community Area ranked as a Medium-Low area of hazard for proximity to industrial roads, the Brighton Park and New City Community Areas ranked as Medium-High, and the Bridgeport Community Area received a Medium hazard score.

Brownfields

A screen capture from the "Environmental Justice and Neighborhood Schools in Chicago" study shows the relative burden of brownfields for McKinley Park and surrounding Community Areas.A screen capture from the "Environmental Justice and Neighborhood Schools in Chicago" study shows the relative burden of brownfields for McKinley Park and surrounding Community Areas.The burden of brownfields – previously developed and currently vacant land with possible contamination – also falls most heavily on Chicago’s South and West sides, the study found. It measured the Cleanups in My Community (CIMC) data set from the U.S. EPA against local school populations to establish a measure of burden.

The McKinley Park Community Area enjoys a low burden from brownfields, the study found, but the adjacent New City Community Area received a Medium High ranking, and South Lawndale received a High ranking.

 
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“Brownfields are highly indicative of the state of the community,” Cailas said, noting how it also reflects other community issues such as high vacancy rates. “They are a source of pollution you cannot ignore,” he said.

Southwest Environmental Alliance

Cailas said that community input will be integrated into the final versions of the study and that his team will be reaching out for comments in coordination with the Southwest Environmental Alliance (SEA).

Cailas also said that this team will continue to assess Chicago’s emissions sources and develop measures that can be used to accurately quantify pollution and its related harms in the hopes of policy changes that reduce Chicago’s disparities of environmental burden.

“Something has to happen,” he said.

Ed. Note: MAT Asphalt is a Sponsor of the McKinley Park News. For information about our operations and policies, see our About Us page and the Letter from the Editor "Building a Trustworthy News Business."


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