A yearlong investigation reveals the air quality in Cicero is “much worse” than in surrounding Cook County neighborhoods. The project involves sensors installed and monitored by the Cicero Independiente and MuckRock providing data to back up what many community members were already feeling.
“It’s very common in Cicero to hear complaints of people that say that the air feels weird,” said Irene Romulo, development and community engagement coordinator with Cicero Independiente. “Often people complain that there’s a rotten smell in the air that comes from the water reclamation plant or sometimes feeling like there’s haziness.
We know that there’s been studies conducted in the city of Chicago to measure the air quality, and we wanted to find out more about what’s actually happening in Cicero.”
Cicero Independiente enlisted the help of different volunteers and residents in Cicero who took interest in this matter. Those individuals then placed one of the air monitors outside of their homes. Their sensors are measuring PM 2.5, or soot, daily about every two minutes. Cicero is a largely immigrant community, and more than 80% of the population is Latino.
Marynia Kolak, a health geographer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said long-term exposure to poor air quality can influence a range of health outcomes from things like increased ER visits to inflamed asthma.
“This can lead to long-term chronic health conditions from asthma to changes in cardiovascular disease,” Kolak said. “You don’t have to be right next to a plant to experience some of these challenges if you’re living with chronic stress, which many of the residents in Cicero are living through because of excess economic hardship and many other factors. There’s an extra challenge to health outcomes because your health can only take so much at a time.”