Chicago Environmental Justice Groups United to Work on Southeast Side Problems

Several local environmental justice groups recently announced they were uniting to work on problems on Chicago’s southeast side.

Eight organizations announced [last month] that they will work as one group, dubbed the Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago, to help ensure that new and existing companies comply with air- and water-pollution limits. The activists vowed to hold public officials and environmental regulators accountable for their promises to safeguard children, the elderly and others who are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

“We are tired of the environmental assault on our community,” said Cheryl Johnson, a lifelong resident of the Altgeld Gardens public housing development, where President Barack Obama once worked as a community organizer. “We want jobs and industry that don’t pollute our neighborhoods and make our children sick.”

During the 1980s, Johnson’s late mother, Hazel, helped start an “environmental justice” movement that used industry data and census figures to highlight how poor African-American and Latino neighborhoods throughout the nation are disproportionately affected by air and water pollution. More recent data show that although pollution generally has declined, low-income and minority areas continue to be hit hardest.

A 2008 Tribune investigation revealed that people in Chicago and nearby suburbs face some of the nation’s highest risks for cancer, lung disease and other ailments linked to industrial pollution. Nearly two dozen of the region’s top polluters are within eight miles of Altgeld Gardens and other neighborhoods ringing Lake Calumet in the city’s southeast corner.

In the Sustainability Studies program at Roosevelt University, urban environmental hazards, social and environmental inequalities, and community organizing are at the heart of our social justice mission and of the way our courses are organized.  If you would like more information on our program, visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email

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