City health officials have rejected the latest permit sought by parent company General Iron to operate a metal shredding and recycling operation in southeast Chicago because the operation poses ‘unacceptable risk’ for the health of residents, officials said Friday.
Chicago Department of Public Health officials rejected the permit due to “potential negative changes to air quality and quality of life that would be caused by the operations and health vulnerabilities in surrounding communities” as well. only a track record of the Reserve Management Group, known as RMG, in operating similar facilities.
The combination “poses an unacceptable risk,” ministry officials said.
RMG will now be barred from operating Southside Recycling at 11600 S. Burley Ave., officials said.
“We are committed to protecting and improving the health, environment and quality of life for all Chicagoans,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “In an already vulnerable community, the findings of the [Health Impact Assessment] combined with the inherent risks of recycling operations and concerns about the company’s past and potential non-compliance are too great to ignore.
Southside Recycling would be “the most environmentally friendly metal recycling facility in the country,” RMG spokesman Randall Samborn said. The company will continue to pursue legal action against the city in an attempt to obtain the license it needs to operate.
“Politicians and government officials have ignored the facts and instead been cowed by persistent false narratives and misinformation aimed at demonizing our company,” Samborn said in a statement. “What should have been an apolitical licensing process has been hijacked by a small but vocal opposition who made it clear long ago that they would oppose this facility unconditionally, damn the facts and the science. Politics, not protection of the environment or public health, is the only reason the city denied Southside Recycling’s operating permit.
The final permit Southside Recycling needed had been on hold since May, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot delayed action after Environmental Protection Administrator Michael Regan said the proposal raised “significant concerns in matters of civil rights” and merited in-depth study.
Regan welcomed the city’s decision to deny the permit on Friday.
“This is what environmental justice looks like: all levels of government working together to protect vulnerable communities from pollution in their backyards,” Regan said in a statement.
The in-depth study of the proposal’s impact on the health of people living in surrounding neighborhoods found that the operation would not negatively impact the health of residents in the southeast, officials said on Wednesday. .
However, the study released on Friday found that “community conditions on the South East Side have been affected by the presence of past and present industry and that the proposed Southside Recycling Facility would have additional negative impacts on the environment, health and quality of life of the region’s residents,” according to the department’s statement.
A coalition of groups who staged a month-long hunger strike said the permit denial should put city officials on notice that Chicagoans would no longer allow the Southeast Side to be “a sacrifice zone.”
“This decision can be a watershed moment for communities of color that have been hurt by environmental racism for decades,” the groups said in a statement. “While we celebrate this decision, the community continues to deal with the toxic legacy that has allowed pollution to build up in our community and we will not stop fighting for our right to clean air, and we will continue to fight until healthy Chicago communities like ours can live in a healthy environment.
Officials also rejected the permit because of RMG’s track record in Chicago, officials said.
“Officials have discovered apparent instances of RMG’s non-compliance with city health and environmental regulations and existing requirements,” according to the department’s statement.
The company failed to obtain necessary permits for sand smelting operations and exceeded authorized capacity for other approved operations, officials said.
Officials also determined that RMG officials demonstrated a “lack of transparency and responsiveness, such as failing to report the April 2021 building collapse at the site and the related failure to maintain materials containing asbestos correctly”.
In August, RMG agreed to pay a $500,000 fine to the federal government as part of a deal to resolve charges that the company’s former Lincoln Park operation violated the Clean Air Act.
In May 2020, two explosions at the Lincoln Park facility rocked the North Side and prompted Chicago Department of Health officials to fine General Iron $6,000 for violating Chicago’s pollution standards. the state. In November 2020, General Iron’s officials agreed to pay a total of $18,000 in fines after being hit with a dozen citations from city inspectors in connection with the blasts as well as dozens of complaints and of quotes.
Additionally, city officials cited RMG in July for failing to notify the proper authorities that a vacant building had collapsed at the site of the proposed facility.
Southeast residents and conservationists have repeatedly urged the city to stop the shredding operation from operating in the 10th arrondissement, a part of the city they say already bears a disproportionate burden of industrial operations that cause air and soil pollution, traffic congestion and noise.
Regan’s letter echoed those concerns, saying the area’s already poor quality of life would be reduced by the new metal grinder. The company shut down its Lincoln Park operation — which resulted in numerous violations and triggered tens of thousands of dollars in fines — at the end of 2020.
The health risk assessment found that the proposed Southside Recycling facility would positively impact the economy of Chicago’s southeast neighborhood by creating a total of 100 jobs, according to the study. This will require the company to hire 35 new people, and company officials have agreed to give preference to nearby residents for hiring, officials said.
The facility would have involved processing 500 tonnes of material per hour of obsolete metal, which would have benefited the entire city, according to the study.
But the facility would have had negative impacts on traffic congestion in the area by adding 70 truck and car trips during the morning rush hour and another 30 during the evening rush hour, according to the study. .
The facility would also negatively impact noise pollution in the area around the facility and potentially negatively impact water, soil and air in the area, according to the study.
Additionally, there was a potential for explosions or fires at the facility, according to the study.
More than 250 operations on the Southeast Side have been investigated by the EPA for polluting the air with fine particles which have been linked to a higher risk of cancer as well as respiratory disease. According to Regan’s letter, other environmental issues in the neighborhood include heavy truck traffic and hazardous waste sites that are polluted with lead paint and sewage.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]