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Pilsen and Little Village activists want mayoral candidates to make environmental issues a priority

Activists want mayoral candidates to focus on environmental issues
Activists want mayoral candidates to focus on environmental issues 02:40

CHICAGO (CBS) -- While public safety has become a central issue in the upcoming mayoral runoff, community activists are hoping to shine a light on environmental justice in their neighborhoods, calling on the candidates to pay attention and take action.

Those activists hit the streets on Sunday in Pilsen, making their way to the Sims Metal Management recycling plant, just one of the many so-called "perpetrators" they say are polluting their communities

"We need to stop the killings. We need the lies to stop, and the cleanup to start," said 9-year-old Pilsen resident Apollonia Jackson.

Apollonia, her younger brother, and her mother all suffer from asthma. They said the family-shared disease is not a coincidence, but rather a result of living in Pilsen – a community activists say has been long targeted by industrial pollution.

"Our communities are heavily policed. Our people are heavily policed. Our communities are occupied by the police. Yet there is no policing when it comes to these polluting companies. Nobody is regulating," youth minister Tanya Lozano said.

The Southwest Environmental Alliance, which gathered at Lincoln United Methodist church on Sunday, called on mayoral candidates Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson to take more action against developers like Sims Metal Management, MAT Asphalt, and Hilco for what they call violence against the environment.

"Their co-conspirators are elected officials and bureaucrats, who protect and support them," said Southwest Environmental Alliance leader Teresa Reyes McNamara.

A recently leaked Chicago Inspector General's office report suggested city officials could have prevented Hilco's botched implosion at the former Crawford power plant, which caused a dust cloud to blanket the community of Little Village in 2020; an incident fresh on the minds of many.

The youngest voices have become the loudest in the issue activists hope become a central one in the April 4 runoff.

"I want our new mayor not to only focus on public safety, and policing, and guns; but also in our soil, our water, and our air," 14-year-old Josh Graves said.

In a statement to CBS 2, Sims Metal Management said: "We are deeply invested in doing the right thing and being a good community partner. Further, we welcome conversations with any community groups. Air quality is important to all Chicagoans, and that includes Sims Metal and our employees. We've heard concerns raised by groups like the one that visited our facility today which is why we moved forward and are well underway with advanced emission controls."

Meantime, the Southwest Environmental Alliance said both mayoral candidates have agreed to meet with them at an upcoming forum on March 27.

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