Waukegan Generating Station

By Mickey Belmer, SFSU 2017.

The Waukegan Generating Station located in Lake County Illinois has been harming its surroundings for generations. The environment and community both suffer due to the waste and emissions from the coal burning power plant. This article will examine these issues, and their root cause; environmental racism.

Waukegan Generating Station burning coal at night.


The Edison International owned Waukegan Generating Station in Lake County Illinois is the cause of social and environmental issues. The plant has been operational since 1923 with several separate units coming in and out of use [1]. The plant produces a large amount of waste annually that affects the environment and surrounding community in a number of ways, including air and water pollution[2].

The Waukegan Generating Station is a coal burning plant, and one of the oldest in the countr[[3]. The production of energy at this site produces a large amount of toxic emissions and wastes. The four major toxins associated with energy production at coal powered sites are carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury[4]. The negative effects of these emissions take a major toll on the surrounding environment. The Waukegan Plant is in close proximity to Lake Michigan which receives waste from the plant[5]. Some of the most harmful waste the plant produces is mercury waste, of which just one gram can cause 20 acres of lake to become unfishable[6]. The Waukegan plant produces 100 pounds of mercury waste annually, along with it’s numerous other air pollutants[7]. The pollution is causing increased damage each year the plant is operating [8].

While the effects the Plant has on its surrounding environment should be enough to draw attention to its issues, there are also social ramifications, which perhaps are even more devastating. The neighborhoods that are in the vicinity of the Waukegan Plant are comprised of a majority of people of color. The population consists of 19 percent African Americans and 45 percent Latinos[9]. This is a clear indicator that the root cause of the issues caused by the Plant can be linked to environmental Racism. Environmental racism is the further victimization of marginalized people [10]. People of color are often forced to live near large energy sources such as power plants, which have negative effects on their lives [11].  The surrounding area is populated by people of color, who are marginalized citizens. This marginalization is evident in the surrounding populations bearing the burden of the power plant[12]. These individuals are victim to a huge number of illnesses and disorders due to pollution and contamination caused by the plant[13]. In 2010 $86 million dollars of health costs were associated with premature deaths and diseases caused by pollution from the Waukegan Plant[14]. This damage is being done to a community that on average makes $18,400 a year in contrast to the $21,857 national average[15]. This highlights the marginalization of this group and the further advantage being taken by not rectifying the issues this plant is causing.


p id=”1″>[1]              Environental Law and Policy Center (2010) Midwest Generation’s “Unpaid Health Bills”: The Hidden Public Costs of Soot and Smog From the Waukegan Coal Plant in Illinois. Retrieved from http://elpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/WaukeganCoalPlantHealthCostsFinal11.11.pdf

Beyond Coal Illinois (2017) The Waukegan Generating Station. Retrieved from http://content.sierraclub.org/coal/illinois/midwest-generation/waukegan-generating-station

[2]            Beyond Coal Illinois (2017) The Waukegan Generating Station. Retrieved from http://content.sierraclub.org/coal/illinois/midwest-generation/waukegan-generating-station

[3] Beyond Coal Illinois (2017)

[4] Beyond Coal Illinois (2017)

[5] Beyond Coal Illinois (2017)

[6] Beyond Coal Illinois (2017)

[7] Beyond Coal Illinois (2017)

[8] Environental Law and Policy Center (2010)

[9]           NAACP (2016) Coal Blooded. Retrieved from http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/CoalBlooded.pdf

[10]         Greenaction (2017) Environmental Justice and Racism. Retrieved from http://greenaction.org/?page_id=420

[11]         Greenaction (2017)

[12] Beyond Coal Illinois (2017)

[13] Beyond Coal Illinois (2017)

[14] Beyond Coal Illinois (2017)

[15] Beyond Coal Illinois (2017)



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