Tag Archives: Chicago

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.


Mike and Beth talk smack and shop

March 4, 2012

When is it acceptable for enviros to take money from big business?

It’s been awhile since horticultural writer extraordinaire Beth Botts has been on the show. So today, she and I will sit around and discuss a few horticultural issues, while answering gardening questions. In addtion to the work on her blog Growing in Chicago and her various freelancing duties, Beth has been working behinds the scenes as editor of the show guide for the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, which opens at Navy Pier on Saturday, March 10. And her new website is The Garden Beat.

Meanwhile, she and I have been batting around some horticultural issues which may or may not turn up during our discussion today. (Of course, if you can’t listen to the show live, you can always download a podcast.)

One of those subjects is something I briefly talked about a few weeks ago when the National Wildlife Federation decided to partner with the ScottsMiracle-Gro Company to “advance NWF’s nationwide Be Out There initiative to connect children with nature.” The story never made it into the so-called main stream media, yet the social media exploded with outrage. NWF’s Facebook page (which has long-since calmed down) featured comment after comment that excoriated the organization for getting into bed with a company that is known for selling Roundup and weed n’ feed products that disperse not so nature-friendly chemicals into the environment.

Within a week, the partnership was history. But that ill-fated marriage raises legitimate questions about what money can and cannot buy. Many environmental groups are not-for-profit organizations that continually struggle to find funding to stay afloat and keep their mission in front of the public. Who is to be the arbiter of which companies they are “allowed” to accept money from? Ultimately, it boils down to what the public sentiment will bear. If nobody raises a stink…no harm, no foul.

But what can happen–as is more and more the case with the social media–is that a few people hunched over their computers can get a bee in their collective bonnets and decide to put on their Moral and Ethical Police uniforms. As I have seen (and have even found myself in the middle of thanks to some comments made by one of my guests), it doesn’t take long for an individual or organization to suddenly be in damage control mode–deserved or not.

With that in mind, what are we to say about these relationships?

Okay, kids. Get out your blue books and let’s begin.

On many completely different and unrelated topics, here are some other stories that we might get to:

The battle to preserve Chicago’s landfill moratorium

If you’re an environmentalist, you quickly learn that a victory like the one over the pollution-spewing Fisk and Crawford plants is always short lived. Just as soon as you protect one segment of the population or piece of earth from despoilers, another oil company or strip mall developer pops up in another game of whack-an-eco-mole.

Still, I’m stunned by two things concerning Chicago’s South Side (where most of our environmental degradation seems to be concentrated.) The first thing that knocks me for a loop is that 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale is agitating to lift a moratorium on landfill dumping within the city limits of Chicago, which has been in effect since 2005 and which was supposed to last until 2025!

Here’s the other thing that stuns me. I have known about this for about two weeks and I have yet to have seen anything about it in any newspaper or on any other media outlet in Chicago!

Sorry about the italics and the bold typeface and the exclamation points but, geez Louise, I am absolutely gobsmacked! Oops, there I go again.

That’s why I’m honored to have Cheryl Johnson, Executive Director of People for Community Recovery, on the show.

Cheryl learned about environmental issues in her Altgeld Gardens neighborhood from her mother, Hazel M. Johnson, sometimes called “the mother of environmental justice.”. The elder Mrs. Johnson, who passed away in 2011, was recipient of numerous environmental awards and had worked alongside President Barack Obama during his community organizing days in Chicago’s poorer communities.

Cheryl continues the tradition by working on soil, air, and water quality issues in and near the Altgeld Public Housing Project. She is one of the founding members of the Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago, working with other groups on the severe pollution problems in the region.

What can you do to stop this outrageous violation of a hard-earned environmental victory?

Suzanne Malec-McKenna and the future of Chicago’s environmental programs

November 6 , 2011

A conversation with Suzanne Malec-McKenna, former Commissioner of the former Chicago Department of the Environment

For those of us who had been paying attention, the announcement that Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s 2012 budget did not include funds for Chicago’s Department of the Environment was not exactly a surprise. In fact, even though the department officially ceases to exist as of January 1, 2012, its presence has already been scrubbed from the City of Chicago website and replaced by a page that simply talks about “Environment.”

According to the Emanuel Administration, they wanted sustainability issues to be addressed in a more centralized way. To that end, the city promoted Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert to the Mayor’s Office. The Mayor also created a Sustainability Council–which he will chair–with a mandate to create and deliver a sustainability plan incorporating goals outlined by his transition team and the Chicago Climate Action Plan. It includes the Chief Sustainability Officer and commissioners of Housing and Economic Development, Transportation, Streets and Sanitation, General Services, Water Management, Aviation, Buildings, and Procurement.

Call me skeptical but this also looks like a way to bury environmental concerns deep in the city bueaucracy. By the way, Weigert was on the hot seat a couple of weeks ago at a gathering of environmentalists and concerned citizens who wanted to know when Chicago will get its act together about recycling. Hey, that’s something I ask all the time!

Like I said, all you needed to know about the direction in which the city was headed was when the new mayor took office and immediately fired Suzanne Malec-McKenna as Commissioner of the DOE. Malec-McKenna was appointed commissioner in 2007 and had been a member of the department for seventeen years. Her list of accomplishments is pretty impressive. These are some of the projects that she either helped create or fostered during her tenue:

Greencorps Chicago
Chicago Center for Green Technology
Chicago Conservation Corps (C3)
Calument Stewardship Initiative
Water Quality Unit
Chicago Climate Action Plan
Waste to Profit Network
Energy Action Network
Recycling Block Club Captains
Restoration and Expansion of North Park Village Center

And more. No wonder Chicago’s environmental community already misses her. In fact, I received this email just yesterday from a listener and community activist who heard that Malec-McKenna was going to be on the show:

Suzanne Malec-McKenna has been the champion for the Lake Calumet Area for her years at DOE. We cannot thank her enough for all she has done. We are crushed that she was not asked to be a part of Rahm’s administration. Now that DOEnv. is in danger, we see why.

What are Suzanne’s thought about the Millennium Natural Reserve that the Gov. will announce next week? How can we smooze this into “protection” for our (ever-assaulted) area? Her expertise is more important than ever!

Thank you –

Sharon Rolek
C3 Leader
Lake Cal Area

One thing Malec-McKenna is still proud to be involved with is the The Prairie Research Institute, If you don’t recognize that name, it might be because it was originally called The Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability. From their website:

Created in July of 2008 to house four state scientific surveys — Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS), and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) — as a group under the auspices of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign . Then in 2010, the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program (ITARP) became the fifth division under the new name of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey , further expanding the Institute’s research and service capabilities. The Institute’s mission and vision statement reflect the importance of sustaining our state’s natural resources.

Malec-McKenna is currently working on her Ph.D. in communication. Even with unemployment high in America, this is one talented, smart person who should have a bunch of companies lining up to hire her. I’m honored to call her my friend and I’m very pleased that she is taking time to speak to me on the show.

Mike and Mike work on WCPT’s Holiday Harvest

Last week, when the Faith in Place folks were on the show, I hinted about the possibility of teaming with them to do a healthy, local and sustainable food drive. Well, it’s pretty much on track and this morning, Mike Sanders of “Our Town” and I will be talking about it on my show.

When I say “healthy, local and sustainable,” it turns out that those are terms that can be difficult to define for a food drive. For instance, if you donate canned tuna, which contains lots of protein and is fairly healthy, it’s probably not local. It might not even be sustainable, depending on how the tuna is being caught. Or maybe you want to donate organic potatoes to the drive. Well, some food banks won’t accept produce because it can spoil. See the problem?

I’ve taken on this challenge as a chance to teach folks about the kinds of foods–and other goods–that can and should be donated to food pantries. As I said, it’s not simple, and I hope my listeners and followers on this site and on Facebook and Twitter will help me figure out things.

The Mike Nowak Show staff (uh, that’s pretty much Kathleen Thompson), has set up a page about our drive that has some basics right now, and will be updated in the next few weeks. I hope you’ll check it out from time to time and begin gathering food to donate during our drive. We think we will have a number of drop off locations in the Chicago area, and those should be announced by next week.

The drive will be from December 1 to December 11 of this year. On December 4, Mike Sanders and I will have a joint broadcast of Our Town and The Mike Nowak Show from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., when we will talk to food experts, our listeners, and perhaps even welcome people to the WCPT Studios parking lot to drop off their goodies. Perhaps we’ll see you there.