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<v Speaker>Coming clean. A retrospective on our environment. <v Speaker>Next on WTTW Journal. <v Speaker>People know that something is wrong. <v Speaker>The war is part of it, but it's deeper than the war. <v Speaker>The more thoughtful critics of the war have known from the beginning that the war was <v Speaker>just a symptom of something much deeper. <v Speaker>Black people and poor people have long known what's wrong. <v Speaker>Now the garbage and the crowding and the stench and the unhappiness and the crime have <v Speaker>spread beyond the ghetto. And all of society is coming to realize that it must <v Speaker>drastically change its course. <v Speaker>A lot of strategies have been used in the past by people seeking change. <v Speaker>Movements have come. Movements have gone. <v Speaker>And some very real sense. This movement may be our last chance. <v Speaker>If environment is indeed a fad, it will be our last fad. <v Speaker 2>I live in an area that a maggot can't breathe in.
<v Speaker 2>The politicians are forcing people to the streets. <v Speaker 2>Period. <v News anchor>Someday the world will be a better place if it listens and acts. <v News anchor>In the meantime, perhaps for a generation or more, it will be frighteningly costly to <v News anchor>each of us to clean up the mess. <v News anchor>Each of us has made what is at stake and what is in question <v News anchor>is survival. <v Marty Robinson>And that was 20 years ago. <v Marty Robinson>Social turmoil born of many issues. <v Marty Robinson>A lot of questions, too few answers. <v Marty Robinson>Hello, I'm Marty Robinson and this WTTW journal is part of a three year project <v Marty Robinson>with the Chicago Community Trust exploring issues of concern to our community.
<v Marty Robinson>This is the year of the environment. <v Marty Robinson>Our program begins by looking back to 1970, before there was <v Marty Robinson>even an EPA, before the Clean Air and Water Acts, when it was <v Marty Robinson>routine to dump raw sewage into our rivers and for poisonous smoke <v Marty Robinson>to belch into our skies all as if there were no tomorrow. <v Marty Robinson>But as we'll see, tomorrow is now here and environmental success <v Marty Robinson>or lack of it is a series of small stories about a big subject. <v Speaker>A quiet side street on Chicago's southeast side, 1970. <v Speaker>Not much has changed over the years. <v Speaker>It was a family place then where kids were always playing in the streets, in parks. <v Speaker>And it is a family neighborhood today. <v Speaker>Its lifeblood was once industry. <v Speaker>Much of that has died away, but it is still the kind of area where train tracks
<v Speaker>run so close to homes that you can find a freight car parked in your backyard. <v Speaker>Homes have been sold. People have come and gone. <v Speaker>One family that stayed was the Mellons. <v Speaker>Rose Mellon had nine kids. <v Speaker>The youngest were her twin daughters, Dorothy and Donna. <v Rose Mellon>I just thank the good Lord that they're here today. <v Rose Mellon>Because what they went through. <v Rose Mellon>What I had to go through. <v Rose Mellon>It it'll never leave my mind. <v Rose Mellon>Never. She would bleed from the mouth and not just <v Rose Mellon>a nose bleed or, you know, would stop. <v Rose Mellon>Her hair and everything was covered with blood. <v Rose Mellon>I get up, wipe it up, and I'd have to sit up with her because I was afraid she was gonna <v Rose Mellon>choke on her own blood. <v Rose Mellon>But it would just pour out. <v Speaker>It was like I didn't want my mom to leave. <v Speaker>You know, every time she wanted to leave the hospital, you know, I didn't want her to go <v Speaker>because I didn't know what I was going through. You know?
<v Speaker>And I just remember the pain that I went through basically just a little <v Speaker>bit. But I remember that I couldn't walk or nothing from it. <v Speaker>You know, I remember as clearly as she does, but it hurt. <v Speaker>Yeah. <v Rose Mellon>There was smoke coming out of the asphalt plant. <v Rose Mellon>It was smelly. <v Rose Mellon>And it was like you seen all over the city of Chicago out of the smokestack. <v Rose Mellon>And I would just like it was coming right into my yard. <v Rose Mellon>And you could feel it when it fell. I knew your skin was gritty. <v Rose Mellon>Coming to my house, I had the windows open because at that time I had no air <v Rose Mellon>conditioning. My counter was always gritty. <v Rose Mellon>I wipe it up now or later was the same thing. <v Rose Mellon>It wasn't very nice here at all. <v News Anchor>The family became living testimony to how bad the pollution was. <v News Anchor>They bussed to government hearings and pester their alderman to get rid of the plant. <v News Anchor>But Rose and her two daughters also became targets of letters and threats
<v News Anchor>like no smoke, no paycheck. <v Rose Mellon>I just like being outside. I used to cut the grass. <v Rose Mellon>Naturally, they had to be with me. <v Rose Mellon>We spend the majority of our time out there, play in the pool <v Rose Mellon>and just sit on a porch. <v Rose Mellon>And I was asked, why don't you move? <v Rose Mellon>I bought the House and 67, and they're telling me to move. <v Rose Mellon>I had nine children then. <v Rose Mellon>They were all just growing up. I'm trying to put them through grammar school, Catholic <v Rose Mellon>high school. <v Rose Mellon>And I didn't have no intentions of walking because I didn't do the dirt <v Rose Mellon>near. <v Speaker>It makes me mad. You know, that nothing was really ever done about it. <v Speaker>You know, they just let it go. <v Speaker>There's nothing you can do about it, though, unless you have money or power. <v Speaker>And, you know, I don't have any of that. So it's basically you're the little guy. <v Speaker>You can't do anything about it. <v Speaker>An empty lot is all that's left today following the move of the asphalt plant to another <v Speaker>part of town. But it turned out to be a hollow victory, though both Donna
<v Speaker>and Dorothy say they are fine today. <v Speaker>They will always live with the fear of cancer. <v Rose Mellon>We fought because I knew I was fighting for my <v Rose Mellon>kids lives and for other kids that were little in this <v Rose Mellon>area because it didn't just stop here at my home. <v Rose Mellon>It was growing throughout the whole neighborhood and maybe into other <v Rose Mellon>areas because smoke has no boundaries. <v Speaker>When a hot summer day once meant going to the beach or fanning yourself on the back <v Speaker>porch, the pollution could be bad enough to kill fish and turn <v Speaker>daylight into night. <v Speaker>Smog pushed Vietnam protests off the front page on the southwest <v Speaker>side near Midway Airport. People in bungalows and tiny row houses were being squeezed <v Speaker>by pollution from a sanitary district treatment plant and a coal burning Commonwealth <v Speaker>Edison Power Station. <v Speaker>A young priest began organizing the people of his parish into Davids to challenge
<v Speaker>the Goliaths. <v Father Dubi>They felt powerless, but they just had to accept the fact. <v Father Dubi>What could they do? What could a little person do to fight city hall or fight these car <v Father Dubi>companies? <v Father Dubi>My father was a steel worker for 40 years. <v Father Dubi>U.S. Steel South works and then the summer, it was very, very <v Father Dubi>hot and sweaty. And in the winter it was so cold. <v Father Dubi>And he hated that walk into the mill, the dinginess and the dirtiness and <v Father Dubi>the drabness of the whole community and particularly of that mill with <v Father Dubi>the smokestacks spewing forth all this stuff. <v Father Dubi>He was trapped. He couldn't do anything. <v Father Dubi>And that's why he always told me that there was strength in organization. <v Speaker>You know, go. <v Speaker>Now it is small parish in Hazel Crest, Father Dubi seems a long way from those days
<v Speaker>of rage, but the memories are still a part of him. <v Father Dubi>Our tactics were assertive, but it comes <v Father Dubi>right out of the Bible. I think that Jesus, throwing out the money changers, turning <v Father Dubi>over their temples was a pretty violent act, pretty violent, <v Father Dubi>but not half as violent, not a millionth as violent as what <v Father Dubi>people had to experience out there in the southwest side with the air pollution. <v Father Dubi>The deterioration of the environment and the sense of hopelessness that we can't do <v Father Dubi>anything. This has been the way it has been for years. <v Father Dubi>Nothing will change it. We changed that. <v Father Dubi>They changed it. They changed it. <v Speaker>[Tense music plays] <v News Anchor>He was the first of the environmental vigilantes striking mostly under
<v News Anchor>the cover of darkness to spotlight polluters of the Fox River, <v News Anchor>keeping from being publicly identified to this day, despite being chased by <v News Anchor>everybody from the FBI to local factory guards, a high school biology <v News Anchor>teacher who became a legend known only as the Fox. <v The Fox>And when I was talking to the kids, I would teach them about pollution and things like <v The Fox>that. And it began to dawn on me that <v The Fox>if I was if I had the character to mean what I said and believe <v The Fox>in what I was doing, then I was going to have to do something about it. <v News Anchor>He launched a nighttime raid on a sewer line of a big soap making plant that he said was <v News Anchor>dumping into a small creek, a creek that fed the Fox River. <v The Fox>I get out there and pull the lid and I look down at the bottom, sir, and <v The Fox>I just couldn't do it. I was I was a teacher, <v The Fox>obeyed the law, and I just couldn't do it. <v The Fox>And I was getting ready to go.
<v The Fox>And I heard some plopping noise and I <v The Fox>turned on my flashlight looking about and I saw a whole slug of <v The Fox>soap curds coming out and it was decided, hey, <v The Fox>that's something broke inside of me. <v The Fox>And so I just took everything that there was there and I threw it in the sewer. <v The Fox>And when I got it filled up, I couldn't hear the water run anymore. <v The Fox>And so somehow or other, I felt good about that. <v The Fox>I just felt that I had stopped something that this company was destroying. <v The Fox>I'd stop them in the act and I just felt good about it. <v The Fox>There it is. See that one? <v The Fox>Right. That's the original one. <v The Fox>You can see where they had attached steel braces to it and then put an angle <v The Fox>iron across the top of a certainly hacksaw through it. <v The Fox>So they they dug it up and moved it, pushed it down here. <v The Fox>It wasn't completely backed up, but it started to and they couldn't afford to let it go. <v The Fox>So they had to clean it out.
<v News Anchor>It was the beginning of a string of Robin Hood like attacks that began to focus attention <v News Anchor>on the environment here and across the country and lay the groundwork <v News Anchor>for future environmental activist groups like Greenpeace. <v News Anchor>The soap making plant eventually spent 12 million dollars to clean up, gave <v News Anchor>over land to the county for recreational development and one hundred thousand dollars <v News Anchor>to a wildlife association. <v The Fox>The people love this. It says it's important for a kid <v The Fox>to catch a frog in a river, as it is for a for a businessman to catch a musky <v The Fox>up in Wisconsin. And this is where it tests where the kids learn the love of the river. <v The Fox>That's a learn to love the environment by coming down here and splashing around <v The Fox>in the water and catching fish. <v The Fox>So the river is really kind of the heart of this whole valley and nobody <v The Fox>has a right to defile it. <v The Fox>I don't like doing what I have to, but the most important thing I <v The Fox>got to say about that is I shouldn't have to do it.
<v The Fox>If the law is operating we shouldn't have all of this pollution. <v The Fox>We shouldn't have animals being killed by spills. <v The Fox>We shouldn't have midnite dumpers. <v The Fox>We shouldn't have the companies using <v The Fox>the dead of night to belch out their fumes. <v The Fox>If the law is working properly. <v The Fox>If a company stack is belching smoke, we tried to cap <v The Fox>it. So that the smoke would go down inside the plant. <v The Fox>And when by the time they got up there to find out what the problem was, we were gone. <v The Fox>They left either bumper sticker or a note telling them what they were doing and <v The Fox>they already know what they're doing. <v The Fox>But we just left them identification saying that you got a problem. <v The Fox>And when they see the name of The Fox they know they've got a problem. <v The Fox>He loved me. <v News Anchor>Another target was an aluminum recycler who was dumping into the Fox River. <v News Anchor>He sells vegetable oil today after being driven out of business by the Fox.
<v Robert Arundale>The environmental people were or did not like <v Robert Arundale>the fact that a little of this was got into the river. <v Robert Arundale>Their comment was, yes, it will eradicate some plant <v Robert Arundale>life and reduce the amount of fish that could be <v Robert Arundale>present in the river. <v Robert Arundale>There is a great material right there that the aluminum oxide, which is similar <v Robert Arundale>composition to sand or silica oxide. <v Robert Arundale>The Fox did find this and he would stop up our water <v Robert Arundale>flow to the river and he would drop off skunks at the front of my home <v Robert Arundale>and the EPA would be right behind him. <v Robert Arundale>And sure, we were sitting ducks, so to speak. <v The Fox>Nobody likes to get dumped on. <v The Fox>Nobody. Feels like just because they have to obey the law, they <v The Fox>have to get rid of their garbage in a lawful manner. <v The Fox>They have to have it picked up. They have to have septic tanks.
<v The Fox>They have to pay sewer tax. And then I see some powerful corporation or some. <v The Fox>Irresponsible, greedy. <v The Fox>Businessmen dump his waste on the street. <v The Fox>They feel like that's it offends their sensibilities of being fair. <v The Fox>And this is what the whole idea is about. <v News Anchor>The Fox never really retired. <v News Anchor>He just changed his tactics. <v News Anchor>He still leaves his calling cards. Before he was chased by police <v News Anchor>and government officials. <v News Anchor>Now he's being pursued by Hollywood for a new series. <v News Anchor>Today, he works a lot with kids connecting in phone hookups to impress <v News Anchor>upon them the importance of the environment and the Fox River. <v The Fox>We have a duty to to leave the next <v The Fox>generation. It's like a camper at a campsite. <v The Fox>You're supposed to leave the place so that you if it's not better <v The Fox>than what you found it. It has to be at least as good.
<v The Fox>It's the people that count. <v The Fox>That's not the individual. The idea that counts. <v The Fox>And, you know, as a fireman friend said, hey, no matter what happens <v The Fox>to you, the idea of what you've done is now free and running and you <v The Fox>can't put it out. <v News Anchor>The Grand Calumet is a small river on our doorstep in northwest Indiana, maybe <v News Anchor>13 miles in length. <v News Anchor>Yet it is one of the most polluted in the world. <v News Anchor>Existing today as a tragic reminder of our past and a symbol <v News Anchor>of how much we need to accomplish in the future. <v News Anchor>This was once its beginning, bubbling up quietly from Natural Springs in the <v News Anchor>Dunes recreation area and a Gary suburb in the shadow of the big mills <v News Anchor>and their belching smokestacks. <v News Anchor>To see this part of the river is to see it as it once was many years ago. <v Reggie Kornas>The river was clean enough to catch big northern pike. <v Reggie Kornas>All kind of fish. And there are ducks and all kinds.
<v Reggie Kornas>In my day, I seen it. I've seen it go from bad to really, <v Reggie Kornas>really bad. Now I see a little improvement. <v Reggie Kornas>I know I see some fish and, you know, carp like other net. <v News Anchor>The river now begins where U.S. Steel makes it begin a mile and a quarter <v News Anchor>downstream, where the giant fortress like company spits out the millions of gallons <v News Anchor>of water it takes in from Lake Michigan each day for its cooling process. <v News Anchor>U.S. Steel is now under siege from the United States Environmental Protection Agency <v News Anchor>for violating the very limits it set up for itself for dumping into the Grand Cal. <v News Anchor>It's become a personal battle for the EPA regional boss, a former Lithuanian <v News Anchor>freedom fighter who is able to translate his hatred of injustice into <v News Anchor>his pursuit of polluters. <v Val Adamkus>They agreed to and the consent decree and unfortunately, they were violating. <v Val Adamkus>And it took us a while to catch them.
WTTW Journal
Episode Number
No. 206
Coming Clean
Producing Organization
WTTW (Television station : Chicago, Ill.)
Contributing Organization
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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Series Description
"WTTW's Chicago Matters Project was designed to involve Chicagoans in environmental problems as well as to educate them. The project comprised three special programs as well as other on and off-air activities. "Recycling: The Case Against Garbage showed viewers the strides made in recycling, the variety of recyclables, and the enormous benefits of recycling. The program avoided beating the viewer over the head it explained the hows and whys of recycling in an entertaining way which kept people from burning out on information overloud. "The history of the environmental movement in Chicago was the subject of Coming Clean, but the program also showed how many problems remain as well as ways to solve them. In spite of that, the many successes that were explained in the program pointed out how much can be done to improve the environment. "The Southeast Side of Chicago has been the city's dumping ground as well as the site of a great deal of heavy industry. Consequently it's one of the most polluted areas of the city. The Chicago Matters Town Meeting gave residents of that part of the city a forum to comment and complain about the cavalier way their neighborhoods have been treated by industry, government, and landfill operators. Their comments were sparked by a plan to build Chicago's third airport on the Southeast Side which would destroy their homes and which would also require massive decontamination of the construction sites. "The Chicago Matters Project dealt with environmental news on WTTW's nightly news analysis program, Chicago Tonight were problems such as the Clean Air bill, the cost of caring for the environment, and even the trendiness of being environmentally aware were discussed. The project also used on-air promotions, educational projects, and WTTW's member magazine, Eleven, to help people understand gravity of the problem and what they could do to help."--1990 Peabody Awards entry form. This episode profiles some of the environmental battles that have raged in Illinois and Indiana over the past several decades and efforts by ordinary citizens and activists to fight air and water pollution. The episode also includes a video documentary element.
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Producing Organization: WTTW (Television station : Chicago, Ill.)
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Chicago: “WTTW Journal; No. 206; Coming Clean,” 1990, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 26, 2022,
MLA: “WTTW Journal; No. 206; Coming Clean.” 1990. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 26, 2022. <>.
APA: WTTW Journal; No. 206; Coming Clean. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from