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Health Concerns About Demolition At Proposed Olympic Village

2016 logoTerry Clark has lived at the Prairie Shores apartment complex in Bronzeville for 43 years. For the last couple of weeks though, his allergies have flared up, making it difficult for him to breathe, and causing headaches,  and a runny nose.

Clark attributes the flare-up to the trees and shrubs being dug up at the Michael Reese Hospital site, which is near his apartment. He said he and other residents are experiencing, “deep concern and dismay,” regarding the imminent demolition of more than two dozen buildings on the South Side site because as far as the environmental impact of the 2016 Olympic Village, “nothing is clear” about the project.

Clark said already the air is different, just from the greenery being yanked.

“I already feel the effects. There’s clearly dust if nothing else,” said Clark. “I’m very upset and distressed. If I’m feeling like this now and they haven’t even started.”

The 37-acre site could be the Olympic Village, if Chicago gets the 2016 games nod Oct. 2. As of Aug. 27, no demolition permits had been applied for by either contractor, Heneghan Wrecking Co. or Brandenburg Industrial Service Co., said Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the city’s Department of Buildings.

With three schools and two residential apartment complexes so close, Clark’s concerns are valid, said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental programs at the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

“Parents would have a reason to be concerned and all strategies should be employed to minimize dust from that project,” said Urbaszewski. “And asbestos is dangerous and leaves a ticking time bomb if you spread that stuff all over the place.”

Although Clark is white, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, 75 percent of residents over 18 in the 4th Ward—which houses Bronzeville— are African-American. Dust and respiratory irritants can trigger asthma attacks and African-Americans have higher risk factors, Urbaszewski said.

Additionally, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s Web site, blacks are three times more likely to be hospitalized from asthma and to die from asthma.  African-American women, the site says, have the highest asthma mortality rate of all groups.

In the late 1990s, the Center for Neighborhood Technology conducted a study that theorized demolition from numerous CHA buildings caused higher than average rates of asthma/respiratory illnesses in Bronzeville. The latest demolition could be “hazardous to human health,” and a health plan needs to be developed, said Dave Chandler, principal business analyst with the center.

“It’s a legitimate concern with school kids breathing in the air for the duration of the demolition,” said Chandler.

Prairie Shores resident James Carpenter, who is black, said he would like to know more about the possible hazards involved.  He said he hadn’t been notified about anything regarding the demolition.

“If there is something that would affect my health without me knowing, I’d be upset and very concerned because I have a wife and three children,” said Carpenter.

Yet not everyone is worried. Luciana Jenkins wasn’t when she picked up her two-year-old son from day care at Lake Meadows apartments nearby.

“I think the air is just as polluted without the demolition,” said Jenkins.

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) said clean-up of interior asbestos/lead could start in September or October, with demolition in October. The contractors, she said, understand they’re in the middle of a residential neighborhood and special precautions are needed.

“They have to be very careful in this demolition,” said Preckwinkle.

But Clark said the alderman has not been responsive about this issue, and that residents have received, “inadequate information.”

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