Little Village Residents File Federal Class Action Lawsuit Over Toxic Dust Cloud

Suit charges environmental racism: Dangerous demolitions like this do not happen in predominantly white neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago

An unofficial Spanish translation of the lawsuit is available here.

CHICAGO – Little Village neighborhood residents today filed a federal class action lawsuit against the developers and other companies responsible for the botched demolition of the Crawford Coal Plant, which subjected the community to a massive toxic plume over the Easter holiday weekend, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Little Village residents, a predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American community, have long been victims of what activists term “environmental racism,” with pollution of their neighborhood and residents occurring at much higher rates than most neighborhoods in Chicago. “A 2002 Harvard Public School of Health study [2] linked the pre-existing pollution in the community to an abnormal and large increase in premature deaths, increased emergency room visits, and asthma attacks,” according to the suit. During the COVID-19 panedmic, Little Village, like many communities of color, is at risk of higher rates of infection and death.

Led by the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), the Little Village community has long fought against the use of their community as a toxic dumping ground, successfully campaigning to force the closure of the Crawford Coal Plant, which was long one of just two dirty, coal-fired power plants in the country operating in an urban neighborhood.

Besides producing lung-clogging dust, coal burning plants notoriously generate tons of radioactive material each year, lung-destroying sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and mercury and lead which are unsafe at any levels. Now residents fear that a toxic plume of those materials and asbestos has been rained down on their community.

“The closure of the Crawford Coal Plant was supposed to represent the end of a major and deadly source of pollution in the neighborhood,” charges the suit. “Instead, the Defendants’ actions have caused the very chemicals from the Crawford Coal Plant that LVEJO and the Little Village community worried about for years to blanket residents, homes, businesses, and open spaces.”

The suit demands an immediate clean-up of the homes, businesses and public areas of the community, providing particulate masks to all residents, high efficiency particulate air filters for their homes, thorough testing and sampling of the air and dust by independent scientific monitors, alternative housing for residents during the duration of the cleaning process, and a third-party assessor to evaluate and provide estimates of the property damage and decrease in property values caused by the reckless demolition.

Named plaintiffs in the class action suit are Jose Solis, Antonio Solis and Juan Rangel.

Jose Solis witnessed the toxic plume as it rushed toward and enveloped his home. As a former worker at the Crawford plant, he was aware of the toxic debris being spread by the cloud, and for days after the demolition he kept his children from going outside for fear that they would become sick. Mr. Solis lives with his elderly father, Antonio, who besides his age, already had health issues that put him at greater risk of harm during the pandemic. Now the Solis family is concerned that Antonio has been put at even greater risk by the dust cloud.

Mr. Rangel has been involved in the Little Village community for over three decades. On Saturday, after visiting his brother who had fallen ill with coronavirus, he returned to his home in Little Village to find that the toxic dust cloud had coated his entire block.

“What happened last weekend in Little Village would be unconscionable in normal times,” said Steve Art of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys  at Law, one of the attorneys in the suit. “Burying a neighborhood in a toxic dust cloud during a pandemic caused by a respiratory virus – on Easter weekend when many residents were outdoors – leaves us at a loss for words. We join the rest of Chicagoans in condemning the reckless misconduct of the Defendants named in today’s lawsuit. And we are proud to represent members of the Little Village community in their continuing quest for environmental justice.”

In addition to Mr. Art, the Solises, Mr. Rangel and the potential class are represented by Jon Loevy, Michael Kanovitz, Scott Rauscher, Cindy Tsai, Julie Goodwin, Danielle Hamilton, Renee Spence and John Hazinski of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law. Loevy & Loevy is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms and has won more multi-million-dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country.

A copy of the lawsuit, Jose Solis, Antonio Solis, Juan Rangel, Plaintiffs, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, vs. Hilco Redevelopment LLC, HRE Crawford LLC, Morgan/Harbour LLC, Heneghan Wrecking & Excavating Co., Controlled Demolitions, Inc., V3 Companies, LTD., Commercial Liabilities Partners LLC, and Marine Technology Solutions LLC No. 1:20-cv-02348 , can be found here.

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