A zoomed-in screenshot of the environmental justice map shows many swaths of the McKinley Park neighborhood as heavily burdened by pollution as compared to community demographics.

McKinley Park a Hot Spot for Pollution, Environmental Justice Concerns

Published October 31, 2018

A new map from the Natural Resources Defense Council has illuminated Chicago's localized pollution levels as tied to environmental justice issues, which consider how sources of pollution are sited within specific demographic and geographic areas. The analysis found a preponderance of environmental justice burdens on Chicago's Southwest Side, with McKinley Park in the middle of a swath of neighborhoods heavily impacted by pollution within minority and economically disadvantaged communities.

"This map illustrates that our community is disproportionately impacted by the burden of pollution from past and present," said Robert Beedle, a member of Neighbors for Environmental Justice, a group that McKinley Park residents formed earlier this year in the wake of new industry moving into the neighborhood. "This map shows the need for continued environmental action in our area to make sure we maintain and even improve our environment over time," he said.

The defense council map leverages data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's EJSCREEN environmental justice mapping and screening tool. Using EJSCREEN to analyze the McKinley Park Community Area and the Central Manufacturing District reveals many details about pollution, demographics and the relative environmental justice burdens borne by the community.

 EJSCREEN environmental indicators McKinley Park Central Manufacturing District screenshot2A screen shot from the EJSCREEN tool covering the McKinley Park Community Area and the Central Manufacturing District displays where this area ranks for key environmental indicators as compared to the State of Illinois, U.S. EPA Region 5 and nationally.
 

As illustrated by the data, the local area is in the top 25 percent for many environmental indicators for pollution, including air and water pollution, and proximity to polluting sites. The EJSCREEN tool also includes and compiles demographic data, which show the local area to include high percentages of minority, low income and less educated residents.

EJSCREEN demographic indicators McKinley Park Central Manufacturing District screenshot
A screen shot from the EJSCREEN tool covering the McKinley Park Community Area and the Central Manufacturing District displays where this area ranks for key demographic indicators as compared to the State of Illinois, U.S. EPA Region 5 and nationally.
 

Combining the environmental indicator data alongside demographic information yields an environmental justice index, which the EJSCREEN User Guide explains as combining multiple demographic factors into a single environmental factor. The data for the McKinley Park Community Area and the Central Manufacturing District shows the area residing in the top 25 percent for every environmental justice category as compared to the state, the region and the country.

EJSCREEN environmental justice indices McKinley Park Central Manufacturing District screenshot
A screen shot from the EJSCREEN tool covering the McKinley Park Community Area and the Central Manufacturing District displays where this area ranks for environmental justice as compared to the State of Illinois, U.S. EPA Region 5 and nationally.
 

"The cluster of relatively polluted areas on the Southwest Side is a direct legacy of our history, infrastructure and industrial roots," Beedle said. "We are starting from a position in which pollution from the past and present affects us on a day-to-day basis."

Beedle said this data should be considered within the scope of the City of Chicago's planned modernization process for its industrial corridors, especially since a large part of the neighborhood rests within a Planned Manufacturing District that enjoys less strict regulations for industry. 

"Now that we have clear data that shows our area is already disproportionately impacted by pollution, it is imperative that the city take environmental and human health considerations into account when planning the future of these designated areas," Beedle said.

"Any development will bring some type of impact; the question is whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs for our community," he said.

The EJSCREEN tool also allows for generation of specific charted data for all elements of the study, including for the McKinley Park Community Area and the Central Manufacturing District. An online glossary explains all the terms used in the EJSCREEN tool. 

Charted data from the EJSCREEN tool shows specific numbers for the McKinley Park Community Area and the Central Manufacturing District for where the area lies in environmental justice indices, specific environmental rankings and community demographics.

 


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