Battling landfills and pollen

May 6 , 2012

The fight against dumping waste in Chicago continues…

About two months ago, I learned about an ordinance, proposed by 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale, that would lift a moratorium on landfill dumping within the city limits of Chicago. That moratorium has been in effect since 2005 and was supposed to last until 2025.

In a bit of tortured logic, Beale says that he’s doing it to protect the people of his ward. He points to waste hauler Land and Lakes’ effort to legally grab Chicago property that was once an active landfill. The property is on the Chicago-Dolton border along 138th Street. Land and Lakes wants to annex it to the Dolton site, which is still an active landfill. Beale, fearing that the courts will allow the annexation, was quoted by WBBM Radio as saying, “If they’re going to be able to continue to dump, let’s see what agreement we can get where the community can benefit from it at the end of the day.”


The latest twist in this saga occurred in Springfield last week, when State Sen. Don Harmon introduced Senate Bill 3728, which would prohibit new or expanded Cook County landfills. But just as quickly, the bill was pulled from the Senate Environmental Committee hearing, which was cancelled and the vote delayed. Word is that the waste industry is putting full court pressure on this one, especially because the bill is receiving support by environmental and community groups. Other key legislators behind the proposed ban are State Rep. Constance Howard and State Rep. Thaddeus Jones.

The next step is a press conference to show support for preserving the moratorium on landfill dumping in Cook County and Chicago on Monday morning at 10:00 a.m. at the James R. Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph. Among the attendees will be

State Rep. Constance A. Howard (34 th district)
Ald. John Pope (10 th Ward)
Southeast Environmental Task Force
South Chicago Neighborhood House
People for Community Recovery
Illinois Environmental Council
Environmental Law & Policy Center
Chicago Recycling Coalition.

I will be there representing the Chicago Recycling Coalition and, of course, myself. Today, I welcome to the show Tom Shepherd from the Southeast Environmental Task Force and Mel Nickerson from the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

You can get involved, too, by mailing this post card to the Chicago City Council, telling them not to undo thirty years of environmental progress with one misguided law. You can also go to No Chicago Landfills on Facebook and Like them.

One man’s fight against rampant pollen pollution

Did you know that it is illegal to plant or sell a male juniper in Albuquerque, New Mexico? I’ll give you a hint. The ban is under their city Pollen Control Ordinance. I think I’ll let Tom Ogren explain it himself, from his website Allergy-Free Gardening:

All junipers (commonly called “cedars”) are separate-sexed (dioecious) and each one will be either a male plant, or a female. The female junipers produce juniper berries but NO pollen. The males always produce pollen. For some very dumb reason, modern horticulture has propagated and sold hundreds of millions of male juniper trees and shrubs. In city after city almost all the juniper bushes planted are now male clones. All of them, like the male tree in this video, all of them will release huge amounts of allergenic pollen each year. Often they will bloom twice, in spring and fall, and will shed pollen each time.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still coughing and sneezing, just from WATCHING that video.

I’ve know about Tom Ogren for a number of years, since I interviewed him at Gargantua Radio Down the Dial. At that time, I was struck by how much sense his ideas made. I haven’t changed my mind at all about that, even though some of my horticultural friends have looked at me askance. Of course, they do that anyway.

But back to Tom. He earned his MS degree studying the plant-allergy connection and how plant flowering systems differ. Along the way, he would come across advice from lung associations or allergy groups that suggested no one plant certain trees or shrubs–plants such as yew, yew pines, willows, ash, mulberry, Pistache, pepper trees, junipers, maples, box elders, poplars, aspens, and more. Why? They triggered severe allergic responses.

More from Allergy-Free Gardening:

Eventually it occurred to him that since so many of these “very worst” plants were dioecious, separate-sexed, where one tree would be all male, and another all female, that in truth only the males produced pollen. He also concluded that since female plants never produced any pollen, that they were the ones that would be most truly allergy-free. He was the first to notice and then write and publish about how the sex of plants influenced pollen allergies.

After some years of research Tom started to photograph flowers of suspect trees and shrubs. Rather suddenly he discovered that although it was easy to find plenty of males to photograph, female landscape plants were surprisingly rare. He found this same situation in city after city. This important discovery, now termed “botanical sexism” in scholarly journals, exists worldwide in most modern landscapes.

Of course, it’s not like the Republican “War on Women,” which is about taking away hard-earned rights. This war is more of a “War on Fruit.” You see, in America, we’re neatness freaks. We can’t stand the thought of messy fruits, seeds, flowers or seedpods that come from the female plants. My God! We might have to rake or sweep them up! We’d rather create an epidemic of asthma!

So Tom now finds himself north of the border. He has been hired by Johnson & Johnson to do an allergy audit of the five biggest Canadian cities this spring, based on how allergenic their current landscapes are. There’s also a follow up–Tom is grading them, based on a projection into the future on what (if any) changes they’re making in tree and shrub selection per allergies/asthma.

Here’s what the Canadian press is saying about his work:

The Vancouver Sun
Edmonton Journal
The Star Phoenix, Saskatoon
Canadian Gardening Magazine

And this morning, I welcome him back to my show to talk about plants and allergies.


4 thoughts on “Battling landfills and pollen

  • 06/02/2012 at 11:04 am

    The southeast side has been a dumping ground for all kinds of industry for too long. Often, the “citizens of Cook County and Chicago,” as you put it, had no say in the matter. Yes, there should be better recycling in Chicago. Unfortunately, the previous administration spun its wheels on the matter for fifteen years. There needs to be more education. But until our governments begin to understand that this is a priority, not the last thing on the list, it won’t happen. And when people don’t have the education, they don’t know how to recycle. And the landfilling continues. Organic waste and composting is a state issue that is just beginning to be recognized by the General Assembly. So it’s not just a Cook County or Chicago issue–it’s a statewide and national issue. We still buy too much junk and throw it away–all of us.

  • 05/29/2012 at 5:17 pm

    I listen to your show a lot and have learned a great deal. However, I think you are off base on the landfill expansion proposal. The citizens of Cook County, Chicago and many of the individuals that are opposed to lifting the moritarium are not providing any solutions to the waste problem, just proposing it gets transferred down state or out of state and impacting virgin properties in Indiana and central Illinois. Theyalso ignor the cost to us all with the fuel use and emission from the trucks as well as the future of waste disposal in the county. Let the citizens of Cook County show they are serious about increasing reclycing rates, composting (including food waste) and increase that recycling rate to 70% before we allow them to dump on the rest of the state.

    • 05/29/2012 at 6:30 pm

      I appreciate your comment. I don’t think we’re really on different sides. As president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition, my goal is to get people to use less, and recycle and reuse more. If you think we’re going to get the recycling rate in Cook County to 70% anytime soon, you’re in a dream world. Where do you live? What’s the recycling rate there? I’ll bet it’s no better than Cook County. However, there might be more open space. Cook County has run out of available space for landfills. And tens of thousands of people have had their quality of life diminished by it for decades. Yes, there are many people in Cook County and they produce way, WAY too much garbage–especially considering that much of it could be diverted from the waste stream. But if Cook County says no, and every other municipality says no, perhaps people will begin to understand that when they throw stuff “away,” there is no such thing as “away.” It has to go someplace. Which means they need to consume less and think more about what they buy. I’ve been fighting to get Chicago to run a real recycling program for years. I make no apologies for my stand.

      • 05/30/2012 at 5:25 pm

        No, we are on differant sides, you see I work in the landfill industry. I have been involved IEPA compliance and regulation for 12 years. I see first hand the neglect of the citizens of Cook County and Chicago to recycle. Blue Bag program failure due to using the blue bags as regular garbage bags. I see the use of the streets of the south side being used for fly dumping, a few feet from the entry to River Bend Prairie a load of paper was set on fire. I have seen abandoned boats afloat on the Little Calumet, on fire, and no one in the area takes responsibility.
        I live in Will County, we realize that a landfill is a necessary evil and provided space in a brown field to develop a fill for our use and our use only. Our land use department take many steps to educate the public about recycling and help. In Cook County, even the Organics and Food Recycling and Composting efforts are protested.
        Our employees who work on the facilities 50+ hours a week in intimate contact with the waste are in great health. Probably more so than the citizens that blame their health issues on the landfill that is over a mile away, but not on the MWRDGC drying pits yards away or the freeways. Transportation and fuel issues pollute the air more than any waste disposal activity, Check out the data on the IEPA Air report for last year. The data is there.
        During the 70’s and 80’s when the fills were at their hieght, these communities were populated with people who worked in the mills and industries that surrounded them. They took care of their homes, their families lived with the issues that afforded them a good middle class lifestyle. When the jobs left they left. Now we are looking at a disadvantaged population that moved here knowing what the situation was, who the neighbors were. Perhaps they could not help that, that was what they could afford. Now, this population claims all their health issues are a result of living a mile from a landfill? I don’t think so, there are too many studies that refute that living next to a closed landfill or a modern landfill disposing of municiple waste are not a hazard. In fact a large part of the lake shore is a closed landfill!

        I stick with my stand, if Cook County want to throw away garbage, they need to do it in their own backyard and deal with the consequences. Cook County has not run out of space. The two valley’s that are proposed for expansion will sit there forever between two hills vacant and unusable for anything but landfill space.

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