Please zoom in or out and select the base layer according to your preference to make the map ready for printing, then press the Print button above.

Chicago's Toxic Doughnut, USA


Altgeld Gardens was originally established as a federal housing project for World War II African American veterans on the South Side of Chicago. Labeled the 'toxic doughnut' Altgeld gardens had the highest concentration of hazardous waste sites in the nation. The community was surrounded by 50 landfills and 382 industrial facilities. It had 250 leaking underground storage tanks. Several toxicology studies conducted in Altgeld Gardens since the 1980s have revealed dangerous levels of mercury, lead, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals, and xylene. (Wenzel, L. (1998).

The level of conflict and mobilization peaked in the 1980s and 1990s but People for Community Recovery and other local residents continue to be very active in advocating for community environmental health.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Chicago's Toxic Doughnut, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Illinois
Location of conflict:Altgeld Gardens
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Manufacturing activities
Specific commodities:Industrial waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In 1998 an estimated 26,000 pounds of toxic pollutants were emitted annually contributing to extremely high rates of resperatory illness and asthma. A 1992 survey found that 51 percent pregnancies reported during the last year resulted in abnormalities.

Project area:77
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:6,400 residents over the span of 68 years
Start of the conflict:1945
Company names or state enterprises:ACME Steel from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Public Health, EPA
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:People for Community Recovery, Greenpeace

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Other socio-economic impacts


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
New legislation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Hazel Johnson and People for Community Recovery are widely recognized as founding leadership for the EJ movement. This case is also one of the early instances of successful community led research gather evidence of environmental racism. Succeded in convincing government to address several health issues including water contamination and asbestos.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Executive Order #12898 on Environmental Justice

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

"Final tribute sought for environmental activist", Chicago Tribune

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video Interview with Hazel Johnson

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan.

Meta information

Contributor:Katy Hintzen, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015