General Iron Industries Inc., a metal-shredding company, has received approval from Illinois to move its operation from an affluent, White neighborhood in Chicago to a majority Latino, low-income neighborhood on the city’s South Side.
The permit, issued Thursday, is for a move that was hotly contested as an environmental justice issue by local residents and officials, who say the plant will be an additional source of air pollution in a part of the city already suffering from dirty air. Critics said the pollution is particularly concerning because scientists have reported air pollution can exacerbate Covid-19.
General Iron needs the construction and air pollution control permit to move its facility by 2021 from the Lincoln Park neighborhood to the new South Side location, which is blocks away from schools, parks, and the Calumet River.
The company, owned and operated by recycling and processing plant Reserve Management Group, has been planning the move since then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel approved a large construction project of a new neighborhood called Lincoln Yards near its current location in 2018.
No Evidence to Deny Permit
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said in announcing the permit approval Thursday that it had no evidence to deny it. The Illinois Environmental Protection Act requires a permit to be issued unless there is proof the facility will violate the state environmental law or Pollution Control Board regulations.
In a statement, the company said the permit “establishes that RMG has met all environmental requirements,” and “imposes strict conditions that will ensure we keep our commitment to respect and protect air quality and public health.”
IEPA’s permit outlines additional environmental regulations for General Iron, including “extensive initial and follow-up emissions testing,” installation and use of monitoring devices, and limits on emissions and operating hours.
The shredder has been out of operation since May when two separate explosions occurred, coating the North Side neighborhood in smoke. General Iron was fined $6,000 after the explosions. It was also cited by the U.S. EPA for violating the Clean Air Act in July 2018 over the release of hazardous metal emissions and agreed in 2019 to an administrative consent order that required it to install additional pollution controls.
“The Illinois EPA recognizes the growing concerns surrounding the location and relocation of emissions sources in communities or neighborhoods that have historically been disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution, particularly areas identified as environmental justice areas,” the state agency said in the news release. “Environmental justice policies and activities should be continually evolving.”
General Iron also must get a permit from the city before beginning operations at the new site under new rules for large recycling facilities that went into effect earlier this month. Those rules require the facility to demonstrate that it will not be a “public nuisance” and will protect public health, safety, and the environment.
Legislators Call for Project’s Halt
Six state lawmakers representing Chicago’s South Side sent a letter June 24 to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), asking him to halt the move because the permit would allow too much air pollution.
The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Robert Peters and Elgie R. Sims Jr. and Reps. Kambium Buckner, Marcus C. Evans Jr., Nicholas Smith, and Curtis Tarver.
They wrote that rather than uphold a commitment not to discriminate on the basis of race or other matters, “IEPA has proposed to issue a permit that would enable the relocation of a massive metal shredding facility from a White, wealthy and further gentrifying community to an environmental justice community.”
In addition, the two U.S. senators from Illinois, Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, members of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus, sent a letter to the U.S. EPA in April calling on it to require air monitors at five other facilities and the relocated General Irons plant, which are all at the same address, to ensure “noxious emissions are being appropriately characterized and controlled.”
In a statement, the company said: “As we told the IEPA, numerous comments opposing the permit were wildly false and lacked either a factual basis or scientific evidence. We are looking forward to commencing operations in early 2021 with the most technologically advanced facility available and bringing jobs and commerce to the Southeast Side, where RMG has operated and provided community support for nearly three decades.”