Eight Greenpeace activists on Tuesday climbed a smokestack 140 meters (455 feet) high at a coal-fired power plant to protest pollution in Chicago's main Latino neighborhoods.

The protest, which was begun at dawn, is aimed at the Fisk and Crawford plants, operated by Edison International, a subsidiary of Midwest Generation.

Pollution from the two coal-fired facilities affects schools in the residential area of the overwhelmingly Hispanic neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village.

Greenpeace is demanding that the plants be closed "to clean the air and halt the effects of global warming," said Kelly Mitchell, one of the people who climbed the smokestack at Fisk.

Nationwide, she said, companies like Edison International are poisoning communities with their coal-fired plants.

"We will stay here until the company listens to our message," she said.

Environmental groups have accused Fisk of polluting the air and contributing to the high levels of illness registered in the area, from chronic bronchitis and asthma to lung cancer and heart attacks.

In addition, it is estimated that the two plants contaminate the air to the same degree as the carbon dioxide emissions from two-thirds of all the means of transportation in Chicago.

Studies indicate that Chicago has the highest concentration of people in the country living near coal-fired power plants.

The Chicago City Council for the past year has been discussing an ordinance for clean energy generation sponsored by Alderman Daniel Solis.

The ordinance would obligate Fisk and Crawford to substitute natural gas for coal.

In addition, it would subject other polluting plants around Pilsen and Little Village to strict emission controls.

The proposed ordinance establishes that if a facility has a quarterly emissions average exceeding federal and state limits, it must suspend its operations until pollution controls are installed to bring it into compliance with those standards.