Expansion of Little Village Mayonnaise Factory Raises Pollution Fears
November 28, 2016
By Mary Wisniewski
The news of a factory expansion on the city’s West Side is generally a cause for rejoicing — more manufacturing means more jobs in an area that could use them.
But environmental advocates are concerned that the planned expansion of the Hellmann’s mayonnaise factory in the Little Village neighborhood will bring heavy truck traffic near an elementary school, exposing children to harmful diesel fumes.
The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization wants Unilever, parent company of Hellman’s maker Best Foods, to commit to using trucks fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) or electricity, which produce lower carbon monoxide emissions, rather than diesel.
“We are already overburdened with air pollution,” said Kim Wasserman, executive director of LVEJO, who said 500 to 900 additional trucks will come to the new facility daily. “This is going to exacerbate the situation.”
Construction for the new single-story mayo factory and distribution center on a vacant site near 28th Street and Kilbourn Avenue will start early next year, according to Chicago Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), who has said the facility may need as many as 60 new workers. Site preparation for the facility, an expansion to an existing factory, is going on this fall, Munoz said.
The site is near Zapata Elementary Academy at 2728 S. Kostner Ave. Wasserman said Unilever has donated $20 million to upgrade the school —– but the upgrades do not address air quality concerns.
Munoz said trucks for the facility would travel on Cicero Avenue and not come through the neighborhood. But Wasserman said that her organization wants the company to promise, in writing, to keep trucks off residential streets.
A spokesperson for Unilever, parent company for such well-known brands as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Lipton tea, said in an email that the project will require trucks to enter and exit from the main commercial road. The company also said it is increasing its use of natural gas trucks and has made the Kilbourn Avenue plant “a priority” for their use.
Wasserman said she would like to eventually see 100 percent of the trucks use natural gas or electricity.
With its industrial base and proximity to truck-heavy corridors like I-55, Pulaski Road and Cicero and Western avenues, Little Village has had a history of air quality concerns. The
Crawford and Fisk coal-burning electric plants, located in Little Village and Pilsen, respectively, and shuttered in 2012, were blamed for contributing to asthma and other respiratory health problems in the region.
“They fight and fight to get rid of these old power plants and then there’s another thing that comes in,” said Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
Mudd said the center also is concerned about the possible construction of a distribution warehouse in the neighborhood at 31st Street and Kedzie Avenue, which could also require heavy truck traffic.