Residents of two Latino neighborhoods in Chicago affected by emissions from coal-fired power plants filed suit against the plants' operator, demanding compensation because the odors and pollution deny them the right to enjoy their properties.

"We're not talking about health problems like respiratory complaints but strictly about property damage," the plaintiffs' attorney Arturo Jauregui told Efe on Tuesday

"If they open the windows the house is filled with the smell of rotten eggs, pollutants stain the curtains and the outdoor furniture gets ingrained with filth," he said.

Property prices crashed because nobody wants to buy a house with a neighbor that burns garbage 24 hours a day, all year long.

- Arturo Jauregui, plaintiffs' attorney

In documents presented last week before a Cook County civil court, the plaintiffs identified themselves as residents of an area within a mile of the Fisk and Crawford plants in the neighborhoods of La Villita/Little Village and Pilsen, respectively.

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They said the pollution affects 21,786 residences that are home to 76,857 people.

"Property prices crashed because nobody wants to buy a house with a neighbor that burns garbage 24 hours a day, all year long," Jauregui.

"That's what these plants do - they're authorized by the government but not by the neighborhood," he said.

The company being sued is Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of California-based Edison Mission Group that operates Fisk and Crawford as well as power plants in four other Illinois cities.

The lawsuit states that Midwest has been the object of "numerous and constant" complaints by residents in the affected areas as well as by community and environmental organizations, and have even been the object of government action.

Juaregui says that despite the technology available to counter the problem, Midwest "did nothing to reduce or eliminate the emissions."

Susan Olavarria, Midwest's spokesperson in Chicago, told Efe that the company prefers not to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Nonetheless, she said that "we are proud of our environmental leadership," adding that the company has made continuous investments in the reduction of the plants' emissions "since we took over the property 12 years ago."

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Olavarria said that at the end of last year Midwest finished putting new pollution controls in place to comply with new state regulations that took effect Jan. 1, and with the regulation of emissions of dangerous air pollutants to be enacted in 2015.

Environmental groups are pressuring the Chicago City Council to pass a clean-energy ordinance targeting the Fisk and Crawford plants.

Citing studies by Harvard University's School of Public Health, environmentalists say pollutants from Fisk and Crawford cause an average of 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks and 720 asthma attacks per year.

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