The Public Square

Magnolia Cook on the clean-up of a toxic site at 5th and Hill Streets in Champaign


Hello, my name is Magnolia Cook and I am a member of the 5th and Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign, a grassroots citizen action group advocating for the full clean-up of the toxic site at 5th and Hill Streets in Champaign, The site was contaminated by a former manufactured gas plant that is now owned by AmerenIP. The contamination from coal tar waste left behind after the plant closed over 50 years ago has spread toxic chemicals and heavy metals such as benzene, cyanide, and lead into the soil and groundwater. I have lived in the 5th and Hill neighborhood with my husband and children for over 40 years. As a resident of the neighborhood, I am outraged that the Champaign City Council is refusing to repeal an ordinance that is letting Ameren off the hook for not cleaning up the contaminated groundwater that is flowing through my neighborhood.

The 5th and Hill neighborhood is a predominantly low-income, African American community that has been historically neglected by the city. For years, our community has had serious infrastructure and flooding problems, which we believe further spread the contamination through toxic groundwater that enters our homes and basements, exposing our families to toxic vapors.

We are all very concerned about the health and safety of our families and community, but for some reason those who should be looking out for our health, namely the IL EPA and the Champaign City Council, are ignoring our pleas and neglecting our neighborhood just like they always have. I find it hard to believe that if this toxic site was located in a wealthy, white neighborhood such as Cherry Hills, the city would allow Ameren to get away with leaving the contaminated groundwater in place, especially if the Cherry Hills resident were speaking out like we are. This is just one more example of how our neighborhood's problems and concerns have been largely ignored by the City, and I am tired of wondering if the color of my skin has anything to do with the environmental neglect of my neighborhood. It is time we call this what it really is...environmental racism.

Please join with us in calling on the Champaign City Council to repeal the ordinance that lets Ameren leave the contaminated groundwater in my neighborhood.

Thank you.