Brighton Park migrant camp plans need IEPA approval for construction to move forward, state says

Protesters gather after environmental report reveals 38th and California site is contaminated with metals, chemicals

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Monday, December 4, 2023
Brighton Park migrant camp plans need IEPA approval, state says
The Brighton Park camp being built to address the Chicago migrant crisis will need IEPA approval to move forward, Governor JB Pritzker's office said.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- ABC7 saw crews back at the site in Brighton Park on Sunday following the release of that long-awaited environmental report, revealing the site of the proposed migrant base camp was contaminated.

The state is funding the project, but Gov. JB Pritzker's Office said they will not move forward unless the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency signs off the report.

New video shows construction still underway at 38th and California on Sunday.

According to the environmental report's findings, the chemicals found in the soil included mercury, arsenic, lead and manganese.

Mayor Brandon Johnson's office said crews have already started removing many of those chemicals from the location while they prepare to temporarily move in up to 2,000 migrants by the middle of December.

The city said 6 inches of clean stone was placed through the site to limit access to areas that may pose a risk.

The report also said the stone barrier will be inspected on a weekly basis and then, monthly, until temporary residential use is halted.

READ MORE | City's goal to get Chicago migrants out of police stations by Friday likely to be unmet

Theresa Reyes McNamara with the Southwest Environmental Alliance urged the mayor to reconsider the plans.

"In regards to these asylum seekers, they have nothing," McNamara said. "How did they go through from their country, how they went through jungles, and how they've gotten sick and having their babies come with them and the dangers that they went through to get here to find that they're going to put them on a piece of property that's dirty. I don't think it's right."

David Wink, a chemist and professor at UIC, told ABC7 it is possible for the city to meet that potential deadline while shedding light on what he calls the most concerning chemical found.

"In the case of the inhalation, the one that is most concerning is the mercury. Now, they've documented that. They've found that only one of the sites that they did the testing on, and of course, in the report they also documented how they dug that out and refilled it, and how they're going to be monitoring that in the future. Now, that's only one site. There's smaller amounts below standards elsewhere, but that was the one site that was clearly going to be making a concerned about of vapor that could've gotten into what people were breathing," Wink said.

Following the new findings, a small number of protesters were back out at the site on Sunday, hoping a restraining order filed against the city will stop the development permanently.

"We already know it's contaminated. So, basically, we just want them to shut this project down," said Raul Montes Jr.

On Sunday night, migrants are still being moved out of Chicago police stations.

According to Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, the number of migrants still living in police stations has dropped to 527.