As activists spoke about how they believe industrial air pollution has affected people’s health, especially in black communities, at a virtual rally on Saturday morning, first responders were scrambling to contain a leak of airborne chemicals at an East St. Louis manufacturing plant.
The rally was organized by United Congregations of Metro East, Sierra Club and Metropolitan Congregations United to call on Illinois lawmakers to pass a bill that would give citizens a platform to voice their concerns before industrial companies n get a building permit in their community.
The bill would also require companies to assess potential health impacts in the region. And companies considered “major” sources of pollution would face permit fees of $200,000. The proposed legislation is known as the Environmental Justice Permits Bill.
During the rally, a hazmat cleanup was underway at the Allnex USA, Inc. plant on Missouri Ave. in East St. Louis, where smoke was reported to be coming from a tank trailer as early as 6:30 a.m.
JD Dixon, an environmental justice organizer for the United Congregations of Metro East, took to social media Saturday afternoon after the rally to criticize company officials for not yet identifying the chemical that spread through the air in East St. Louis or the potential side effects of this.
“We need these answers now so people know what’s going on and what steps they need to take to stay healthy,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
The Allnex plant produces industrial coating resins and other materials. Calls made to the factory on Saturday night were unsuccessful because the phone line was busy.
East St. Louis Fire Chief Jason Blackmon could not immediately provide details about the chemical involved in the leak.
Mayor Robert Eastern III said in a submitted statement that East St. Louis would develop a plan to deal with “post-event contamination quickly.”
Mamie Cosey, 81, has repeatedly said she fears for the health of her great-grandchildren in East St. Louis, especially because they live near the Veolia incineration plant, located in Sauget. At Saturday’s rally, Cosey said she was tired of talking about it.
“It’s time to do something about these factories in residential communities,” Cosey said. “It’s time for us to stand up and say, ‘No more of this.’ And you, the government, should say, “Yes, we will come to your rescue.” We will help you. We will do something about it. We will monitor the air quality so that our children have a healthy life. My life is almost over. But what about my three great-grandchildren?
“Save our families,” she added.
This story was originally published July 23, 2022 7:12 p.m.