Thursday, April 20, 2017

Environmental Injustice

“We are here in the West Calumet complex because injustice is here in East Chicago.  We are here because environmental racism is here. We are here because climate injustice is here. We are here because thousands of families' lives are at risk,” Reverend Cheryl Rivera
 Photos by Samuel A. Love

A prime example of environmental racism is the situation near the West Calumet housing project in East Chicago brought about by a US Steel lead smelting company that closed down without cleaning up its mess.  First, it was discovered that the soil was toxic due to factory emissions.  Next, the EPA discovered high levels of lead in the community’s drinking water.  According to Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Hawthorne: “EPA investigators determined the city's water treatment wasn't effective enough to prevent lead from leaching out of pipes that connect homes to municipal water mains. East Chicago installed lead pipes decades ago to convey drinking water to residents. Federal regulations require larger cities to treat drinking water with chemicals that form a protective coating inside the pipes, but the requirements are less stringent for smaller communities.”
 Scott Pruitt ; Post-Trib photo by Craig Lyons

Post-Trib photo by John Smierciak
photo of Samuel A. Love by Laura Milkert

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, rumored to be considering closing the Chicago EPA office, visited the site.  About a hundred demonstrators hoped to confront Pruitt, a global-warming denier and lackey of the oil industry, but police prevented them from walking on Carrie Gosch Elementary School property.  Pruitt did not take questions but read a short statement, saying: “The reason I'm here is that it's important that we restore confidence to people here in this community that we're going to get it right.”  I am skeptical, but continued community agitation might be the way to make it happen.
A quarter century ago, historian Andrew Hurley (above) was a frequent visitor to IUN’s Calumet Regional Archives, researching his path-breaking treatise “Environmental Inequalities: Race, Class, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana, 1945-1980” (1995).  According to the bibliography, Hurley made use of two of my books (“City of the Century” and “Forging a Community”) and over 50 Archives manuscript collections, including the papers of labor unions, corporations, environmental and civil rights organizations, and individuals.  Here’s a summary of Andrew Hurley’s “Environmental Inequalities” from Better World Books:
      By examining environmental change through the lens of conflicting social agendas, Andrew Hurley uncovers the historical roots of environmental inequality in contemporary urban America. Hurley's study focuses on the steel mill community of Gary, Indiana, a city that was sacrificed, like a thousand other American places, to industrial priorities in the decades following World War II. Although this period witnessed the emergence of a powerful environmental crusade and a resilient quest for equality and social justice among blue-collar workers and African Americans, such efforts often conflicted with the needs of industry. To secure their own interests, manufacturers and affluent white suburbanites exploited divisions of race and class, and the poor frequently found themselves trapped in deteriorating neighborhoods and exposed to dangerous levels of industrial pollution.
In telling the story of Gary, Hurley reveals liberal capitalism's difficulties in reconciling concerns about social justice and quality of life with the imperatives of economic growth. He also shows that the power to mold the urban landscape was intertwined with the ability to govern social relations.

In an Epilogue Hurley describes grassroots efforts by environmental activists, many of them veterans of Seventies battles, who formed the Grand Calumet Task Force to bring about the clean-up one of the most polluted rivers in America.  As a result of pressure from residents of the affected areas and their allies, the EPA developed a comprehensive plan for rejuvenating the waterway.  On the other hand, U.S. Steel continued, in Hurley’s words, to “ward off challenges to its environmental authority.” Hurley listed these consequences:
[In 1988] smog level in the area exceeded federal health standards on 27 occasions.  More than once, dangerous fires erupted at the Gary city dump, which was still contaminated with toxic wastes. Revenue shortfalls at the Gary Sanitary District resulted in the direct release of raw sewage and chemical wastes into the already polluted Grand Calumet River.  Perhaps no better event captured Gary’s environmental plight, especially with regard to the effect of poor and minority residents, than the 1987 hydrochloric acid spill at Gary Products, a manufacturer of cleaning solvents and antifreeze.  A total of 111 residents required hospital care for breathing difficulties, skin irritation, and other ailments.
 Anne Koehler in Germany

SALT columnist Jeff Manes interviewed 82-year-old library buddy Anne Koehler.  Asked how long she has worked at IUN, she stated proudly: “29 years.  I’ll be here until they kick me out.”  That’s my attitude as well and, in my case, didn’t seem far-fetched at the time I was defending English professor Anne Balay against slanderous critics responsible for her being denied tenure. I was shunned for a time (still am by one of the “old boys”) but not banished.

Anne Koehler emigrated from Germany in 1960 and became an American citizen in 1972, in time, she quipped, to vote against Richard Nixon.  Anne told Manes that she was from Northern Germany, which she characterized as Lutheran, potatoes and beer, whereas Southern Germany is Catholic, dumplings, and wine.  Anne added: I don't often brag about Germany, but they've had affordable health insurance for over 150 years. Why is it such a big deal here? Socialism is like a dirty word. A big no no. Public schools and public streets are socialism.”

Discussion of landscape needs dominated a Sand Creek Condominium owners meeting at which there was an unusually big turnout. The landscape budget for 2017 is $10,000, and priorities include beautifying the entrance area, shoring up mailboxes, addressing grading problems, and removing tree stumps and bush roots inadequately leveled last year, plus several special owner requests. We’ll be getting estimates from various landscapers.  After years of trying, Board President Kevin Cessna and I finally persuaded former board member Phil Chase to serve as board treasurer.  Meanwhile, in Grand Rapids where I recently saw the Head and the Heart, the Flaming Lips were performing.  Robert Blaszkiewicz and Marianne Bush caught their Chicago show last weekend and raved about it.
 Chris Pfeifer; Post-Tribune photo byJohnny Gorches
Post-Tribune bowling correspondent Johnny Gorches profiled 69-year-old Chris Pfeifer, a Hobart Lanes Mel Guth Seniors Leaue competitor.  Pfeifer started bowling in the 1950s at Play Bowl in New Chicago and has two 300 games to his credit.  My old man (Vic) first took me bowling around the same age.  Gorches wrote: “In addition to bowling, Pfiefer has served as a cantor and song leader at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wanatah for more than 30 years.”  Pfiefer recently won a pins-over-average tournament.  My Electrical Engineers have a weekly 4-dollar pot for whomever is most pins over average.  Today, on the final week of the season, I won it with a 444, being the only guy (just barely) over my average of 143.  The Pin Heads, anchored by Duke Caminsky, finished in first place, while the Engineers came in sixth (out of 15 teams).  Fab Four opponent Sheryl Burrell brought her dad and finished with a 161.  I’m hoping to interview the old man, in all probability a retired steelworker.  After Carol Dopiriak doubled, I promised to “flap my wings” and gobble like a turkey if she got another one.  Sure enough, she did and finished with a 171 to enable Fab Four to win series.

I got home at 4:20 after hearing a WXRT deejay mention the 4-20 pot smokers holiday and got mellow with the help of a Cat Stevens CD that featured “Moon Shadow,” “Peace Train,” and “Father and Son.” The latter starts out, “It’s not time to make a change, just relax, take it easy,” and contains the line: “Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.”

This latest witticism from Jim Spicer:
A senior citizen said to his ninety-year old buddy:  
“So I hear you're getting married?”  
“Do I know her?”  
“This woman, is she good looking?”  
“Not really.”  
“Is she a good cook?”  
“Naw, she can't cook too well.”  
“Does she have lots of money?”  
“Nope! Poor as a church mouse.”  
“Well, then, is she good in bed?”  
“I don't know.”  
“Why in the world do you want to marry her then?”
“Because she can still drive!”

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