East side environmental activist Olga Bautista.
While news of a multi-billion dollar housing and retail development on the long-abandoned Southworks United States Steel site has made big news, the continuing battle to breathe clean air on Chicago’s east side hasn’t had quite the coverage.
In September of last year I wrote about Olga Bautista.
I first met Olga Bautista during the campaign to elect Susan Sadlowski Garza as the Alderman for the Tenth Ward.
Olga Bautista is an environmental activist in the fight against dirty energy. She lives in the Tenth Ward.
What made me call Olga today was the movement of Native people in Standing Rock to stop the pipeline that is being built to take oil from North Dakota and move it across Iowa and into Illinois.
I knew there must be a connection.
Processing the oil produces petcoke. It begins in the tar sand fields of Canada and North Dakota and then is processed into petcoke.
The petcoke ended up in Olga’s neighborhood. It was piled up, uncovered and ended up on clothes, food and in lungs.
East side environmental activists battled and forced some action by the city on petcoke.
Now it is manganese.
Last night, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight reported on the latest discovery of the continuing environmental threat to the people of Chicago’s east side.
About three weeks ago, (10th Ward Alderman Sue) Garza and 25 other parents from Matthew Gallistel Language Academy showed up for a PTA meeting at the school. Waiting for them was Olga Bautista, an organizer with SETF.
Bautista had bad news: Air pollution monitors installed at one of the nearby bulk storage sites during the petcoke battle had detected potentially dangerous levels of manganese, a metal used to produce steel and found in other minerals in combination with iron. The data were collected by the EPA in 2014-15 from monitors set up at KCBX Terminals.
Although manganese is a nutrient essential for neurological function, at high concentrations, it can cause neurological deficits and affect motor functions, according to the EPA. The agency says exposure to elevated concentrations of manganese in the air can lead to a permanent neurological disorder known as manganism, the symptoms of which include tremors, difficulty walking, facial muscle spasms and mood changes.
The risk is even greater for children, unborn babies and nursing infants. Exposure to high concentrations of manganese can affect brain development, including changes in behavior and decreases in learning and memory capacities, according to the EPA.
“When we found out about manganese, I called them right away,” said Bautista, who is friends with mothers of Gallistel students. “They were upset. They were really upset.”
Much remains unknown. It is unclear, for example, how much manganese is in the air. One facility in close proximity to the monitors that detected the manganese, S.H. Bell Co., has for nearly three years avoided installing monitors.
According to a complaint filed by the EPA against the company in August, “S.H. Bell has refused to install air pollution monitors at its bulk material handling facility in southeast Chicago, Illinois.”