After General Iron Fire, Sims Should be Shut Down

The EPA and the city of Chicago must do the right thing and keep harmful industries out of our neighborhoods.

Almost two years ago, as Chicago Southeast Siders were fiercely opposing the plans to relocate General Iron from the wealthy Lincoln Park area to our working-class community, we received news about a series of explosions and a fire at the General Iron facility.

Those explosions and fires were a turning point. The owners of the car-crushing and metal-shredding facility said that the community’s concerns were exaggerated and that their facility was perfectly safe.

As part of the facility went up in flames after the explosion, our fears and the years of outrage from Lincoln Park residents were undeniably on display. We definitely did not want that mess next to our schools and homes after hearing about the disaster at General Iron.

California and Minnesota have taken big steps to protect communities from dangerous facilities. This industry is not just recycling soda cans—despite what their marketing will have you believe—the reality is that they are handling very toxic materials, and neighbors are right to want to shut these facilities down.

While we fought on the Southeast Side to keep General Iron from setting up shop, another similar facility continued to operate under the radar in Pilsen, next to Benito Juárez high school. After the city woke up to the problems with facilities like General Iron, the focus turned to Sims Metal Management in Pilsen. This same company, which used to operate on the Southeast Side, began ramping up collection of scrap metal again in my neighborhood.

Despite the EPA’s new requirement for this large metal recycling facility to install air monitors for dangerous pollution coming from the site, residents from the already overburdened community are questioning if more can and should be done by local and federal agencies to protect the health of the community. It was determined through testing that Sims was likely emitting more than 25 tons per year of volatile organic material (VOM), in violation of the air pollution regulations of the state.

My neighbors and I fought for years to stop General Iron. Southeast Siders went so far as to go on a hunger strike for 30 days in addition to the letters, protests, and constant advocacy that we had to do. A facility like Sims doesn’t belong in Pilsen, next to schools and homes.

The EPA and the city of Chicago must do the right thing and keep harmful industries out of our neighborhoods.

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