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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Emmanuel Camarillo

Southwest Side activists call on next mayor to address pollution: ‘We have to change this’

Theresa Reyes urged the next mayor of Chicago to clean up the air on the Southwest Side at a rally Thursday outside the MAT Asphalt facility at 2055 W. Pershing Road. (Emmanuel Camarillo/Sun-Times)

Activists on Thursday urged both mayoral candidates to talk more about the “environmental violence” the Southwest Side has experienced and called on whoever wins the race to take action against air pollution in the area.  

“We have 10 times the amount of pollution here on the South Side than anywhere else in the city,” Southwest Environmental Alliance Chairperson Theresa Reyes said at a rally outside MAT Asphalt at 2055 W. Pershing Road. “The pollution isn’t distributed evenly across the city. Where is it? Here. That ain’t right.”

With the election weeks away, activists said there is a new opportunity to establish a dialogue with whoever ends up on the fifth floor at City Hall. The group said they never got the chance to do that with outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot. 

“We have a special opportunity, and it happens every four years,” Reyes said. “Lori Lightfoot could have taken advantage of that, if she would have listened to us, if she would have came to our meetings. If she would have helped us with the environment, we could have voted for her.”

The organization is holding a “people’s dialogue” on the environment on March 27 at Lincoln United Methodist Church, 2242 S. Damen Ave. Activists said that mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas have said they would be in attendance. 

Multiple environmental maps, including the city’s own research, have shown the Southwest Side to have a high concentration of health and environmental burdens. That’s in part due to a large number of factories and warehouses in the area. 

But activists say that despite the research, Vallas and Johnson have focused much of their campaigns on public safety. 

“We have to tell them not to only focus on public safety for our streets, but also in our soil, in our water, in our air,” said Joshua Graves, 14. 

Graves also called for the next mayor to shut down MAT Asphalt, which opened across from McKinley Park in 2018. Since then, it has been the source of hundreds of complaints from residents related to air quality and odor. 

“The children as they play across the street in this beautiful park, they are breathing disgusting air,” said Gregg Galluzo, a 50-year Pilsen resident. “I hope all of you realize that we are not considered fully human here. We are bearing pain so that other communities can breathe clean air. This is completely unacceptable, we have to change this.” 

The owner has said the asphalt plant is cleaner than others in the area. 

Rita Aguilar, 67, who was born and raised in Pilsen, said she hopes the two candidates show up to the meeting next week and commit to making changes.  

“I hope to hear that they are going to do something,” Aguilar said. “I hope that they are really serious about cleaning the air, cleaning our environment. We all deserve to breathe clean air. I’m getting older, I’m on my way out. Some day the Lord is going to say it’s time to come, Rita. I’m going, but you know what? In the meantime, what are we leaving here?”

Contributing: Brett Chase

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