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News

Pollution-weary Pilsen residents try to pin down foundry

February 1, 2005

BY GARY WISBY Environment Reporter

Say "air pollution" in Pilsen and people think about the coal-fired power plant there.

But there is also "a different beast": a foundry that emits lead and other toxins into the air, residents and activists say.

Last fall they won 95 percent approval in a referendum seeking an investigation of H. Kramer & Co. And on Monday, at the request of the city's Department of Environment and Ald. Danny Solis (25th), they submitted a list of questions the probe should answer.

Frequently "an overpowering, foul-smelling smoke spews out from the Kramer building" at 1345 W. 21st St., said Karen Sheets, spokeswoman for a Pilsen environmental group. It comes not only from stacks but from cracks between the building's bricks, she said.

It's "a different beast" from Midwest Generation's Fisk power plant, 1111 W. Cermak, long targeted by environmental and health groups.

Elevated lead levels in kids

Kramer, which makes brass ingots, is in the top 10 percent nationwide for emissions of carcinogenic compounds, mostly lead and nickel, according to 2002 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA also rated Kramer in the top 10 percent for respiratory toxicants: lead, nickel, zinc compounds, copper and manganese. From 1998 to 2002, the amount of carcinogens released increased by six times to 3,807 pounds, the agency said.

Kramer paid the EPA fines of $22,356 and $5,000 in 1997, and $8,000 in 2003.

Joining Sheets' group in calling for action was the Southwest Side Pilsen Green Party. "I feel [the Kramer plant] has been affecting the community's health for decades," Sergio Hernandez said.

Lead can cause brain damage to children ages 6 and under. Testing of Pilsen kids in that age group in 2000 found 10 percent with elevated levels of lead, which can also come from paint and car tailpipes.

"This is an industry we have been inspecting for some time," Environment Commissioner Marcia Jimenez said. "We have asked them to make upgrades, and they have."

Calls to Kramer & Co. were not returned Monday.

 
 













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