The front-page story in the Chicago Tribune today about toxic lead found in Pilsen has to strike fear into the hearts of the neighborhood’s parents. And it can’t be good news for 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, either, as he is caught in a runoff with activist Cuahutémoc “Témoc” Morfin.
Tribune reporter Michael Hawthorne writes that a monitor placed on the roof of Pilsen’s Perez Elementary School has detected high levels of toxic lead. On one day in December, the levels “spiked more than 10 times higher [than federal limits].” Federal and state Environmental Protection Agency officials are investigating. Hawthorne notes “a growing number of studies [that] show that even tiny amounts of the metal ingested or inhaled can damage the brains of young children and trigger learning disabilities, aggression and criminal behavior later in life. Most scientists say there is no safe level of exposure.”
According to the Tribune report, Perez is close to “two of the biggest industrial sources of the toxic metal in the Chicago area: The H. Kramer and Co. smelter and the Fisk Coal-fired power plant.”
During the primary, Morfin has been hitting the 15-year incumbent Solis for not supporting the Clean Power Ordinance. Solis has since changed his mind and expressed support, explaining that he has come to recognize how seriously his constituents feel about the issue of air quality.
The issue receded a bit, and Solis, who enjoys the support of both Rahm Emanuel and Ed Burke and the big unions—read my interviews with Morfin and Solis for more—looked like he’d likely enjoy a comfortable win. Now he’s stuck with the issue again, just four days before residents of the ward go to vote.
And, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records, since 2000, Solis has received campaign contributions of $8,200 from H. Kramer—plus another $6,500 from R.K Weil, an H. Kramer executive. Solis has also received more than $50,000 from Midwest Generation, the company that owns the Fisk plant.
Challenger Morfin told me this morning, “It’s very clear that these factories are endangering our health.” He added that previous statements by Solis—that this is a state and federal issue—do not serve the community. “Any elected official, at any level, can put pressure on them to bring things up to code. Of course we can do something at the local level.” Solis’s campaign spokesman responded in an email to my request for a telephone interview with the alderman: “The alderman is booked solid through the day. Is there something specific you’d like to know?” Some questions emailed to her were not answered by post time.
An attorney for H. Kramer told the Tribune, “We have no idea why they would place a lead monitor so close to us. We are not a major source of lead.” A spokesman for Midwest Generation, the company that owns the Fisk plant, was quoted as saying that its emissions are a tiny part of the lead pollution in the Chicago area.