Wicker Park Bucktown Insider's Guide

Construction Dust Can Be More Than A Nuisance. It Can Be Dangerous

Thyra DeCicco - Monday, October 20, 2014

Open scaffolding with no tarps in place containing the dust.

With the influx of construction happening throughout Wicker Park, Bucktown and the surrounding neighborhoods it seems an important time to share this story about irresponsible contractors working in our neighborhood. In the middle of September of this year, masons arrived at a property next door to my Wicker Park single family home. The adjacent property was over 100 years old and painted. The architect wanted to add 2 new large windows which required sawing and chiseling through 3-4 layers of old brick. For three days the masons sawed and chiseled through this turn-of-the-century building.

And dust filled the air. The dust covered my property, my home, the parkway, sidewalk, street and parked cars. The masons did nothing to contain the dust sans the attempt to use a pepsi bottle filled with water dribbled along the wall. The dust was everywhere.

White dust covers my property.

Upon arriving home to find my property covered in brick debris and dust, I contacted the General Contractor. He never came by. I contacted the 1st Ward Alderman's Office at 2058 N. Western Avenue multiple times via phone and email. Although they said it sounded like what the masons were doing was "illegal" they took no action. I called 311. A city Environment Inspector came by a couple of days later but it was too late. The masons had finished and left. He did, however, take pictures of dust he witnessed first-hand.

Because the dust was so irritating physically to myself and other neighbors, I took a sample to an environmental laboratory to make sure there wasn't anything toxic in it. Mind you, my home/yard/parkway and our street had been covered in this stuff.

Test results indicated there was a significant level of lead in this dust which had been released into the air and down our Wicker Park block for three days. Our block is filled with young children and many pets. There was also a high level of silica; also dangerous to breathe. So anyone walking through this dust inhaled silica particles including sand, mortar and cement among other things. In researching how and why something like this could happen, I learned that many Chicago Municipal Codes exist for proper construction and demolition dust containment. There are also many US Environmental Protection Agency regulations that mandate testing and containment of dust. It appears contractor and EPA regulations were simply violated.

Proper containment/use of water at Wood and Division Street October 2014. A mason is inside working but he's not even visible. No dust is being released at this site.

So my message to fellow Wicker Park, Bucktown and Chicago residents is this: If construction or demolition of any type is happening near your home, please know that dust must not be released into the air. It's not only a nuisance; it's potentially dangerous to you, your family, pets and the environment. There are very specific laws in Chicago and the United States that prohibit this. If you see this happening, call 311 and report this to the Department of Public Health/Environment. Demand that someone be sent immediately. If need be call 911. Get these contractors shut down. And with any luck they'll be issued a citation and fined.

This US Environmental Protection Agency takes this matter very seriously. First time offenders can receive fines of as much as $36,000 per day.  

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