Manganese Destiny: My Poisoned Neighborhood and How Unity Can Heal
By Valerie Alvarez
In the colorful community of the East Side, where most houses look the same and children grow up surrounded by community, culture, and contamination, the health of all residents is in peril.
The southeast side of Chicago wasn’t always inhabited by local restaurants, businesses, and families; it was once a hotspot for the steel industry. Railroads, in conjunction with the steel industry, boomed from the 1850s and all the way into the 1980s. As an unfortunate by-product, the steel industry began poisoning the south side. At this time, our neighborhood consisted of a large European population, as many immigrants from Germany, Scotland, and Ireland began to come work in the steel mills upon breaking news that Chicago held an abundance of opportunities.
Eventually, as the demand for steel mills died down, many of these Europeans would move out of the southeast and south sides of Chicago to raise their families in other parts of the city. This neighborhood soon became the home of a densely black and brown population and a hub for Hispanic businesses and churches.
Petroleum coke, a byproduct of steel, resulted in the neighborhood becoming the cancer cluster that it still is today. There are large heaps of petroleum coke only mere miles from a local elementary school. Just a couple of years ago, manganese blanketed the neighborhood and poisoned the air and soil, resulting in an investigation of SH Bell Facility, a large warehouse located near the Calumet River. People speculated that the business didn’t comply with regulations
Much like the way the steel industry left the neighborhood in medical dismay from pollution, private industries like SH Bell are continuing to push and move into the East Side, leaving harmful footprints. Just recently, General Iron, a scrap metal facility located in the Lincoln Park region, announced it would be moving to the East Side by the end of 2020. This action will enrich and empower the north side community at the expense of a low income and underserved Latino community. This neighborhood is already a cancer cluster and wealthy neighborhoods will only thrive and get wealthier, as the East Side only gets sicker.
The effects of additionally polluting an already heavily polluted neighborhood, are only adding on to the countless health disparities that affect residents. According to the Chicago Health Atlas, 8.2% of adults in Lincoln park suffer from asthma while 15% of adults in South Chicago suffer from asthma. While one may feel very small when discussing such big problems, unity among a community is imperative. In order to make your voice heard you must open your mouth. Environmental racism affects every resident on the east side one way or another
We must lobby city and state officials, in order to push and pressure private industries out of the neighborhood. Another solution to ease the fight against respiratory diseases such as asthma in my neighborhood would consist of an intervention to raise awareness OF and provide accessible resources to residents that suffer from these illnesses by hosting informational health fairs led by healthcare professionals. Asthma vans, or mobile doctor’s offices where kids can get affordable asthma check-ups, and easily accessible medications school, the local park, or even church, will be extremely beneficial. Advocating for environmental justice and administering accessible health resources can make a world of difference for communities that have been harmed.