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East St. Louis Chemical Plants and Waste Incinerators, USA


East St. Louis has dealt with a long history of environmental burdens and socioeconomic struggles.

With only about 27,000 residents, more than 98% of the population is African American, about half of all residents are living below the poverty line and unemployment is about twice the state and national average [1, 2].

Chemical plants, waste incinerators, refineries and power plants have plagued this city for more than a century and has resulted in a disproportionate burden of lead poisoning, educational disparities, unemployment and toxic exposure among the residents of East St. Louis [3].

East St. Louis was once a vibrant city.

In the 1900s there were upwards of 80,000 people living there. Post-war industrial abandonment led to a loss of jobs and those who could afford to moved out in large numbers leading to a shrunken tax base [1].

Local government, faced with fewer financial resources, abandoned many services that are commonplace in other communities.

Garbage collection halted between 1987 and 1992, city employees were laid off and both the police and fire departments suffered funding shortages [3].

In the midst of this economic decline in East St. Louis is a smaller, incorporated area on the outskirts of the city called Sauget, suffering in a far deeper way.

Only four square miles in size, there were just 249 residents in 2000. During the golden age of the region from the late 1800s to early 1900s, some companies incorporated areas just outside the city’s borders to allow them to completely escape taxation and political control.

The main objective was to maximize profits while minimizing costs.

As a result, government in these areas does not take care of public services or the general welfare of residents.

Sauget has been suffering from significant air quality and flooding problems.

Some of the original factories have closed but many of the environmental toxins remain in the soils which are exacerbated by flooding that occurs when aging infrastructure is overwhelmed [4].

East St. Louis does not have the funds to reconstruct its sewer system and the problem is worsened because the chemical plants in Sauget and East St. Louis have released toxins into the sewer system for decades [5].

Companies in Sauget include Monsanto, which ranked 5th among US corporations for toxic releases in 1995; Onyx Environmental Services, a toxic waste incinerator that had multiple explosions and releases of clouds of poisonous gases into the air; Big River Zine, one of the top 10 facilities as far as on-site chemical releases and was the state’s third highest source of toxic chemicals release in 2002; and Pfizer which is now a Superfund site.

In addition to these companies, there are four landfills in Sauget used to dispose of chemical waste products [4].

In 1988, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) conducted a study and reported that an average of 120 pounds of organic pollution migrated daily from Sauget.

In 1999, the federal government filed a lawsuit demanding that the mayor, Paul Sauget, and the industrial companies remediate the pollution.

In 2001, Sauget was added to the National Priority List because of all of the contaminants on the property, in ground water beneath the property, and in Mississippi River sediments adjacent to the Sauget property [4].

In addition to the numerous industrial companies in this small incorporated village of Sauget, there are many other facilities throughout and around East St. Louis, all of them emitting tons of pollutants into the air and negatively impacting the health of impoverished residents in East St. Louis.

While air pollution has decreased over the past few decades, people are still dealing with the lasting effects on their health, namely respiratory illnesses [2].

High asthma rates among children; exhaust from highways blanketing the area; backup of raw sewage into homes, schools and businesses whenever volume exceeds the capacity of infrastructure; and garbage collection available only to those who pay out of pocket are just a few of the characteristics of East St. Louis today [2].

According to the IEPA, many children have elevated lead levels in their blood stream that affects their ability to learn and develop.

The IEPA noted that a large percentage of the housing stock has lead contamination and that most exposure comes from lead paint.

They also found during an investigation in 1999 that 11 of the 20 sites they tested had high lead levels in the soil [1].

Since 2006, IEPA cleaned up 14 open dump sites in East St. Louis, removing more than 6,000 tons of household garbage, plastics, glass, demolition debris and tires.

They spent more than a half a million dollars removing used tires and awarded about $300,000 in Brownfield grants for cleanups and assessments [1].

In response to these environmental issues, many different programs and projects were developed.

The East St. Louis Residential Lead Paint Outreach Collaborative [1], the East St. Louis Action Research Project [3], the Urban Extension Minority Access Program [3] and the Neighborhood Based Family Housing Program [3] are just a few. The Illinois EPA adopted environmental justice policies based on the principle that all citizens of Illinois should be protected from environmental pollution and have the right to a clean and healthy environment, regardless of their race or income level [1].

They also formed an EJ Advisory Group to assist in developing and adopting environmentally just policies and established an Environmental Justice Officer to serve as a liaison between citizens and communities, and Agency staff.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:East St. Louis Chemical Plants and Waste Incinerators, USA
Country:translation missing: en.countries.united_states_of_america
State or province:Illinois
Location of conflict:East St. Louis
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Chemical industries
Other industries
Specific commodities:Copper
Domestic municipal waste
Chemical products

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In 1999 study by Lead Contamination Task Force, over 1600 children found to have elevated blood lead levels.

Since 2006, IEPA cleaned up 14 open dump sites in East St. Louis:

- 6,103 tons of household garbage, plastics, glass, demolition debris and tires removed

North of East St Louis:

- U.S. Steel-Granite City Works: more than 13,000 tons of carbon monoxide emitted in 2010

- U.S. coke facility emits another 1,900 tons of sulfur dioxide and 500 tons of particulates per year

-Dynegy Midwest Generation plant: coal burning power plant emitting nearly 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide in 2010

- ConocoPhillips Wood River refinery: Nearly 5000 tons of sulfur dioxide, 4,000 tons of nitrogen oxides and 2,000 tons of volatile organic matter

East of East St Louis:

- CenterPoint Energy: natural gas compression facility emitting 54 tons of nitrogen oxides

South of East St Louis:

- Industrial plants in Sauget release hundreds of tons of volatile organic matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides each year

Project area:3,730
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:27,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1890
Company names or state enterprises:Monsanto Corporation (Monsanto Co) from United States of America
Big River Zinc (BRZ) from United States of America - One of companies in East St. Louis
ZincOx Resources plc from United Kingdom - Bought BRZ for the purpose of using the plant to upgrade zinc before sale
Pfizer Chemical from United States of America - Located in East St. Louis
Cerro Flow from United States of America - Located in East St. Louis
Relevant government actors:United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), State of Illinois, Illinois EPA
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:East St. Louis Action Research Project, Alta Sita Neighboring Revitalization, Emerson Park Development Corporation, Landsdowne Improvement Association, Edgemont Citizens for Crime Prevention and Community Development, Olivette Park Neighborhood Association, East St. Louis Community Action Network, East St. Louis Neighborhood Technical Assistance Center (NTAC), Sierra Club, American Bottom Conservancy, Metro Hope, East End Improvement Association, The Metro East Lead Collaborative’ (MELC)

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsHigh rates of asthma from air pollution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Residents of East St. Louis have been burdened by industry and the negative environmental impacts of industry for decades. This impacts are felt disproportionately by poor, African American families who were not able to move following the post-war decline of production that led those who could afford it, to move where they could receive commonplace amenities that governments have always provided. Meanwhile, poorer black residents of East St. Louis have suffered from air pollution, toxic waters and soils, and lack of basic services. Some companies have compensated families living next to facilities, paying the families money so they (the companies) can continue polluting in their backyard. While there have been small changes made and some remediation performed, the city continues to struggle against many of the same hurdles.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) Environmental Justice Policy

EPA NPL Sauget Area 2

Federal Register Volume 72, Number 197 (Friday, October 12, 2007): Department of Justice, Notice of Lodging of Consent Decree Under the Comprehensive

Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), United States v Afton Chemical Corp, et al

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Priorities List (NPL) Site Narrative for Sauget Area 1

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] East St. Louis Kids Struggle With Life-threatening Disease, Climate Central Climate Journal June 26th, 2012

[1] Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s East. St. Louis Residential Lead Paint Outreach Collaborative: A State Environmental Justice Cooperative Agreement Project Proposal submitted to the United State Environmental Protection Agency by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for the Request for Proposals for EPA-OECA-OEJ-09-01

April 10, 2009

[3] Environmental Justice Case Study: East St. Louis, IL

University of Michigan course 492

[5] Excerpt from book Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration Project: Sauget, Illinois Industrial Corridor Sites, St. Clair County, Illinois

Responsible Parties Reach $2.6 Million Settlement for Superfund Site Cleanup- Environmental Protection March 1, 2007

Pollution lawsuits target Sauget plant as settlement talks bog down- St. Louis Today, June 14, 2014

Other documents

[4] Masters Thesis by Evelien Hermans: To explore the processes of the U.S. and the Netherlands, in which environmental justice  issues are created and addressed Focus case study of East St Louis. Written in January 2004

East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP) civic engagement

Building in East St. Louis

Locator Map Map showing Sauget's location and surrounding features

Convenience Store Very few grocery stores so residents must buy their food at convenience stores like these where food is overpriced (

Monsanto Corporation Image 1 (

Monsanto Corporation in Sauget Image 2 (

American Bottoms Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant

Big River Zinc Corporation photo taken November 2007 (

Meta information

Contributor:Bernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update08/05/2015



East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP) civic engagement


Building in East St. Louis


Locator Map

Map showing Sauget's location and surrounding features

American Bottoms Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant


Monsanto Corporation

Image 1 (

Monsanto Corporation in Sauget

Image 2 (

Big River Zinc Corporation

photo taken November 2007 (

Convenience Store

Very few grocery stores so residents must buy their food at convenience stores like these where food is overpriced (