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Following tape recorded program is distributed through the pathologies of the National Association of educational broadcasters. Just hold your breath. Hold your breath of long as you can go through and discover how vital this natural resource is. Air is the most precious substance we have when and only when it's healthy and youthful. One of the polluted it's costly and the air pollution is a threat to our way of life and you should know more about it in these radio programs produced by Michigan State University under a grant from United States Public Health Service. Every aspect of the national problem from health a back to economic considerations a bit of air pollution will be viewed by legislators scientists and public official representatives of industry of why we challenge you to draw some logical
and responsible conclusions. In the preceding programs we have attempted to create for you an awareness of the problem of air pollution. Scientific and lay testimony has shown that there are important health and economic considerations in this area. Today we think we can bring this problem closer to home by introducing you to a private citizen for whom air pollution has had special significance. We first heard about Mrs. Margaret Sorenson from officials at the United States Public Health Service in Washington and later from the people of the Chicago Department of air pollution control. They were very aware of Mrs. Sorenson because in her attempt to clean the air in her community she had created quite a stir. We want you to meet her because her case will illustrate many of the things we have talked about in past programs. It is important for you to remember that Mrs. Margaret Sorenson has been fighting air pollution for over 20 years and that her approach is entirely colored by her strong feelings toward the problem. Our
interviewer Dr. Albert has just gave her every opportunity to tell her story just as she experienced it. This is science and can you tell us just a little bit about yourself and how long you lived in Chicago and what you've been interested in over the years and your family a little bit. My family came from Pennsylvania to Chicago in 1902 they had my parents with my family and of course we moved into Englewood. And we lived in one homestead there for almost 40 years. And 28 years ago my husband and I moved out into this neighborhood. Because he secured a job at Wisconsin steel and we felt it was better for him to be closer to work because I always had a car and could go and come as I pleased. So we moved right into the heart of the steel mill district. What was it like then when you moved out here. Was this the first house or among the first houses. You know there were.
All when this laugh they were all but about our houses towards the north and where belt and there were some of the houses still overrun Burley's course all these new bungalows around here when I would say we've had an addition of over 5000 homes in this district. Since I live here how far the steel mills from you right here in my backyard right right into your backyard. Yeah I did yeah. I have the federal furnace still a block and a half in west of me. Republic Steel is about a half of miles south of me that we have a Wisconsin steel is a mile west of here. That's where my husband was employed. So we had about Mostly I was feel Bill's right here in this district. But with the things that you first noticed that kind of bothered you with we had to do with air pollution. The church that your body would I don't know how I'm going to say this. The dirt that would stick to your body are here to your body if
you were working out in the yard or if we would be sitting out on the front porch of an evening. You'd go out there or maybe a nice clean house dress husband would have a nice white shirt. We came in and that was the end of that it couldn't be war and the second time if you sat out side in the air any length of time. How long this from going on. Ever since we lived here but in 1942 was the first time I ever called the air pollution department died. And then the war broke out. And they told us that was and anything they could do. Then of course we just went on I mean with it until Republic Steel started this friend just because I want to go what did they do. I don't know but they sure missed everybody in this neighborhood up. How can you be a little more explicit how did how did they mess up the neighborhood. Well but I would say in about five years ago it was the first time
that after we had painted our home our home was planted maybe two weeks. And we got up one morning and went out and looked at it and everything was just as though someone had taken a square gun with oil and sprayed all the paint work on the home. What color was this deposit just like a dirty gray oil. I say like you would take the oil from your crankcase after it's been through and just spray it at somebody and I imagine that's where that oil would look like what it what happened. We don't know where it came from or what to do so we just took brushes and water and soap unscripted. We had him we just painted so then that went along again for about another year and a half and then we had another spray like that. But that wasn't such a serious one. And then in November of 1960 I think there were about 500 homes in this neighborhood sprayed with this same grit. You couldn't wash it off you couldn't scrub it off you couldn't do
anything with it until you were washed with such a terrible solution or such a strong solution that you washed the paint with it and you had to start from scratch and repaint. Would you do that. Car insurance companies they told us they were responsible it was the industries in the neighborhood that were responsible for and that's where we would have to look for damages to try the industry. We wrote I wrote 42 letters to the different industries in this neighborhood and put the case before him and told him to come out if they were interested in look at some of the homes that had been damaged and ask them if they wouldn't do something about trying to clear up the air condition and the pollution condition in this neighborhood. I called a Chicago air pollution department and they came out an after plane monkeying around for about three months. Nothing was done.
We went and hired our own chemist. Took paling is from my porch and window sills from garages in the neighborhood out to this chemist took sweepings from my porches and after a period of about five weeks he called us and told us that it was hydrogen sulfide and the different contents of all this stuff that they had that had damaged homes. So then I called the air cargo air pollution Department. And three days later them they came out of the papers and said it was hydrogen sulfide But before that they said they couldn't find out what it was. I see. So as a result of the test that you made why then. That's right all these years did you start to get some some action then or not. Yes and No.
Well tell us but then we decided we were going to have a drive out to the mayor we were going to hire about fire five buses and fill it up with people in the neighborhood and storming city hall. And at one of our meetings one of the men from the east side chamber of commerce got up and spoke and said he didn't think we should go over our alderman's head that he thought we should talk to our argument first before we stormed City Hall so then we went out to Mr. Purcey meas office on a Tuesday night. He's the Alderman. Yeah. Of the 10th Ward came up to see me and he told us that he would make an appointment with the mayor. And so we kept the date at the mayor's office December twenty eight thousand nine hundred sixty. The mayor at that time I took a paling from my porch with me. He wanted to know what it was and I told him
his guess was as good as ours but that's what he said. That's the way our homes had been damaged three or four times in the past three years and we felt we had taken just about everything and a neighbor should stand even though we were in a steel mill district. So he told us that the time he the Mr Kerry from the air pollution Mr. Moms and Mr Kurson are all a man at the Chicago air pollution department there were about nine of them at this meeting and he told them that there would be a lot of young graduates at the end of January for my Armor Institute and they should hire about 50 or 60 of them and put two or three in each plant. And find the source the cause and the reason of this pollution which they never did. This is a matter of money is my meaning. He told us there was plenty of money in the city treasury to take care of it. I see but nothing happened but nothing happened. What you do then.
Well what was there to do. We just started it every time. Republic Steel would shatter the chimneys would sky parted after everybody in the neighborhood would call them. Asked Mr. Northrup or Mr. pis aller one of the men and talk to him. They say go out and look at it you helped organize all this calling it was all a spontaneous Oh no no we had regular forms made we had mimeographed forms that pinpointed each discharge from those chimneys. Now like one neighbor would get it. I hear I didn't get it so much because I had a very sick husband at the time and but the other neighbors would get labeled commie and say Sorenson they're popping off now and I'd say well don't tell me write it down. Call the air pollution Department. Call the mayor's office call Republic still call any one of them. Call everybody you can. And that way through that kind of an effort I think
they got so tired of these calls that they decided to really do something. Then the airport then we went down and around again went to the mayor to the mayor's office and then they put these boxes in different garages that started accumulating. I don't know there was a sort of a box that had a real that this dirt would come onto it would come in brown spots and it would collect a specimen of yeah that was there. Was it your thinking that maybe if the community got together that you could be more effective than people just working individually. I thought if I could get enough of the neighbors together. I had talked to a doctor stopped him starting that McCrum Associates and he said to take a case like ours and pinpoint the cause what it is and fight it through a court. It would cost us about $5000 so I thought well if I could get everyone here in the neighborhood just to donate a dollar
maybe we could accumulate and get them started on it. But when we took our collection we collected 84 dollars instead of 5000 Yast. Why did you finally have to do a lot of to get some action. We didn't get any action until Mr. Fitzpatrick took over the years Chicago air pollution Department. What happened. He came out here and I insulted him. Clutch they get so mad that he just made up his mind he was going to show me that he could clean up this district and it took him three months and he did good. Did you have to write to Washington or did you write to Washington along the line here too. When we found out through our When we hired this private chemist. And we found out what he had discovered was in this smear on our homes and in this dirt and grit he told us at the time he said to me Mrs. Sarrasin you started something that will take
20 to 25 years to clean up you'll never live long enough to do it. But he said Gee I hope when you get started you keep bad. He didn't even charges for his services and the work he did on it. But he told me then it was a health hazard to everyone that lived in this neighborhood chemist told you this. Yes. And he suggested that I write to him. I forget what the name was now someplace in Cincinnati Anyway it was your government branch in Cincinnati Taft environment again I was at the place and instead of me riding to Cincinnati I rode to Cleveland so I the Hansa got that letter back so then I addressed the letter to Washington DC. And ask if they're as long as we were getting noplace with the Chicago air pollution bureau or if we could demand help from the government.
And he wrote back and said no as individuals we couldn't. Mr. Williams I'm talking about now. Mr. Mr. Williams of the United States Public Health Service. That's right. He wrote back and said no we couldn't. The only way they would step in is if the Chicago air pollution department would demand help from them. Then they would step in. But in his reply and with his reply to my letter he enclosed about 15 or 20 pamphlets printed in Washington D.C.. So here's we had a little meeting of about a dozen neighbors in my home here and we were all reading these different pamphlets and one was reading this and one got more excited the more we read the more excited we got because all they talked about was cancer of the lung and cancer of the throat than cancer this and they helped lead conditions to sinus conditions and Bronco conditions. Then we decided well it was about time we did something and we got real active about it then I finally did get in contact with Taft research and they
sent me all kinds of bulletins. Then in one of the letters from Taft research they told me about Mr. Nelson down in our new post office to biz Department and he is the Chicago representative of the government public welfare and health department. And we went down there and I think when we took samples of what we had down to Mr. Nelson I think that was the best step we made because he never bothered us. He never left us know what he had done. But from that time on our Chicago air pollution department started to take action too. Has the situation been clarified to your satisfaction to know what what remains to be done. Well we get just as much if not this and what they call it put it they call it doesn't smoke.
That's how we lost our case in court. We were in court about five times with this and because they called It's not they threw it out of court. The mission that's a real fancy word yeah. From the open hearth furnace is at Republic Steel. Those are cleaned up. But now they have a standard reading plant that they built right back here at 119 Burley and that was never to have any kind of any mission and somedays it never stops. You think there's any any possibility of folks that are as close as you are to the steel mill ever being freed from leads the mission little particles that come from the steel mill. I don't see how it could be possible. It would cost millions and millions of dollars. And yet in 1952 my husband and I drove through Pittsburgh and when we hit the outskirts of Pittsburgh I said to him we better hold up for the night it's
dark. And then about five years later we drove over the turnpike into Pittsburgh again and I said to him You better take and start looking for a place to hole up before we get to Pittsburgh. And he said to me we passed Pittsburgh about a half hour ago. We didn't even know we went through it. So I do think it could be done just like Pittsburgh just like Pittsburgh. And then Dr. Song I read that you had Dr. Salzman sting from a group associate showed us pictures of the Kaiser plant in Los Angeles County in California and they cleaned that up. You certainly did a lot of work in the neighborhood to get people organized and so forth. I worked with about 12 15 neighbors and that's all the 12 of the 15 they really that's right out of the nucleus for this whole thing. That's right if I think if I hadn't had the backing of about those
men and women there were about five men and about seven women I think I would have quit. What kind of advice would you have to give to another housewife such as yourself the fact that she was being bothered by a problem on air pollution. What would you advise her to do. Move out of the neighborhood. When I say that. Not everybody can move out of the way I do not. We were situated we could be there but that would be the advice that I would give that he was right I would say what's the second best advice out of the devil out of the neighborhood. Burden yourself with a 24 hour a day problem and just take it as it was. I had telephone calls here at 3:30 in the morning Mrs. Sorenson 12 degrees below zero Go look out your back door. Look at this not this kid I was such a junkie and I don't think everybody else or other
people can take it like I can I don't know will of back up just a little bit now. Supposing now this this other housewife as it is has a problem she thinks she has a problem she wants to do something about it. Can you give her any advice or from your own experience as to how does she go about to get this problem corrected. Oh well she went about it like I did she just did devoting 24 hours a day of her time and till she needed a little bit of headway. And what did she do. Who did she get in touch with. Who would she get in touch with I mean from your experience. Well of course I got in touch with the air pollution department that didn't do me much good. Then of course when we talked to our man perceive me he did go to the front for us. Then we went down to the mayor's office we didn't think we had gotten so much cooperation from him.
So we just kept Bill Bennett the industry's calling him up letting them know what the problem was just pestering them to the extent that their switchboard was so busy from early morning to late at night that they had to take and pay attention to us. Did anybody lose their jobs that you know of because of this. Not that I know of. I lost a lot of friends. I had church members of mine there when I walked into church wouldn't talk to me. They were afraid of their husbands jobs the husbands that I knew from the time they were babies. That I knew before I moved into this neighborhood in the husband's asked me what I was trying to do make a big show of myself make a name for myself an old bag like me doing this and doing that. Didn't I have anything else to do but gather the neighbors and have the men lose their jobs and so for did I want all the steel mills in the district to close down. But nobody lost their job that you know not that I know of no no not you lot of these folks you say you lost a lot of friends and you gained these friends back now
since the problem has been son some of some Yeah some of these are these folks are happy with what you've done to make conditions a little better to live in this area. Yes there is one employee of Republic Steel goes to the same hair dresser I do and I said you're a man sign a petition for me. Not me she says that's a goal coming out of them their chimneys that's my paycheck. But now that it's cleaned up and we meet in the hairdressers she always says to me science and I could kiss you and I always say yeah that's it. But she did sign the petition. No I don't want the people in the neighborhood I didn't want Republic Steel to feel that we had just picked them out as one individual to pick on. We didn't. Through our observations and through our chemistry and through this we found out that the worst part was coming from a public scale still so we felt if we'd plein them up first
maybe the others would fall in line and they have. You think that the present framework with the with the Department of air pollution in the city and so forth. Do they have sufficient strength and regulations to do the job that you think are to be done. Now with Mr. Fitzpatrick at the head of it. He accomplished for us in three months. What we had been fighting for for 16 months what remains to be done. Oh clean up the whole city of Chicago. How can how can a park and people like you help the air pollution folks in the city of Chicago. Well I grew up out here we still I still have about I would say about seven or eight women in the group
that when they see a chimney smoking emission whatever you want to call it they'll call up the plant. It's doing it. And they all call a Chicago air pollution if it gets a little bit too bad they call the mayor's office. This is kind of a citizen's reporting Committee. That's right. This would you would you think this would be a good thing for people to do that we're concerned with air pollution. You've got to make yourself. You've got to make them pollution conscious before I or they alone do anything about it. What what else can they do other than call a mayor when they watch for the pollution is there anything that that they can do to help I don't know what else you can do. This is the principal thing that you think of too. That's right. To observers and. Sense of ourselves. Well is it really a nuisance or is it just observing and reporting what you observe. And if you keep bad than the knee then they'll do something about it.
I didn't go all down in the air pollution office for about three months until last week and this interesting plant was oh it was just coming on. No it doesn't it's not. It's longer than that I painted my back porch and I finished painting in about ten after 6:00 in the evening and it was in September beginning of October. And I get up the next morning to take the ladder down that I had laid across the steps so no one would use it and there were rumors about an eighth of an inch of grit on this new paint. So I called the air pollution God where pollution Mr. Manston answered me said to me why Mrs. Sorenson we haven't heard from you for three months. I have to take you off the payroll. He said what happened I said I haven't had a real cause but today he will send somebody out here and get him out here in a hurry. I want to show you a porch I painted yesterday. So he said one of the representatives that works on the North Side district from the air pollution. And when he
came I said to him you know when I get out here this morning look at this porch I just stood here and cried. And this man said Well he said I think if this would have been my project it done the same thing. And the paint wasn't dry yet. Are they making any progress in overcoming this yet or not. Mr. Fitzpatrick told me today when I mentioned this enduring plant that they were still working on it worrisome. Yeah well it's been a real pleasure to talk with you and to have you share some of these things with us that I'm sure will be interesting to other women that live close to industry there. We were is through this work and through my advertising in the paper through this well his notoriety and publicity that I had there was a group out in the north suburbs suburbs that got in touch with me. There was another group in the fifty first in Kenwood district that got in touch with me their complaint was burning Ali refuse from the buildings that they had demolished. The group out in the north suburbs where the damage to the trees
and that they were killing off the elms and the birds and this and that they these folks have gotten in touch with you to ask you for advice as to how to go about things well and how we were working our problem out. Well thank you very much its been real nice to talk with you. That was Mrs. Margaret Sorenson of Chicago. Mrs. Sorenson has been fighting air pollution in Chicago for 20 years and her feelings are quite obviously colored by the duration of her almost single handed effort. There are those of course who feel that Mrs. Sorenson and other private citizens who complain of air pollution problems are oversimplifying the causes and effects and don't really understand the nature of the problem. One of these is Dr. Alan Brant manager of industrial health engineering for the Bethlehem Steel Company. In the light of present knowledge air pollution is primarily a nuisance problem. How far and by what means we proceed in controlling the nuisance is quite another matter. However in the area of health effects with the many young knowns
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Hold your breath
Pollution in your backyard
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Michigan State University
WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This program seeks to personalize the impact of air pollution by focusing on a woman who has been fighting air pollution in Chicago for twenty years.
This series focuses on air pollution and its impact on America.
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Interviewee: Brandt, Alan
Interviewee: Sorenson, Margaret
Interviewer: Heustis, Albert E.
Producer: Ford, Patrick
Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-36-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:14
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Chicago: “Hold your breath; Pollution in your backyard,” 1963-10-16, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 21, 2019,
MLA: “Hold your breath; Pollution in your backyard.” 1963-10-16. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 21, 2019. <>.
APA: Hold your breath; Pollution in your backyard. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from