CHICAGO – The Illinois EPA today granted a permit allowing the notorious polluter, General Iron, to move its operation from the affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood to the working class community of color in Chicago’s Southeast Side. The permit is being issued despite mounting pressure on the Pritzker administration from neighboring residents, community organizations, and Black legislators representing Chicago’s South Side.
Before permits are final, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) will also have to issue approvals under the new Large Industrial Facilities Rules that require relatively stricter oversight and operating procedures for the city’s metals recyclers, as well as other environmental requirements. The City adopted these rules following continuous pressure by Southeast Side and other members of the Chicago Environmental Justice Network to address these long-underregulated facilities. Former Mayor Emanuel had previously carved out recycling facilities from the general dust rules adopted to address petcoke and manganese, though CDPH’s issuance of dust citations to both General Iron and its business partner in the past year show that the facilities pose significant threats of hazardous dust. The General Iron facility also was recently shut down after a pair of explosions disabled the site’s pollution control equipment potentially related to the company’s operation of the controls.
Environmental justice organizations from the Southeast Side are calling for reforms to the broken State permitting process and urging the City of Chicago to deny environmental approvals for General Iron given the company’s troubling history and the disproportionate burden on their community.
The proposed site for the new General Iron facility is just blocks from Washington High School, which has registered the highest levels of several harmful metals in the state in recent years.
The following are quotes from Southeast Side environmental justice advocates and residents:
“We’re sick of having to put our lives on hold in order to fight back against a dangerous polluter because the State and City refuse to do their jobs,” said Olga Bautista, co-founder of the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke. “Now that the State has rubber-stamped this permit, we need the City to step up and prevent this threat from coming to a vulnerable community.”
“I want my son to be healthy, and live in a healthy environment like other children in the city,” said Gina Ramirez, Southeast Side resident and NRDC’s Midwest outreach manager. “This is the typical environmental racism that our community is sick of facing year after year. Lincoln Park neighbors have been fighting this facility for years. If it is not good enough for that neighborhood, why is it good for the Southeast Side?”
“The concept of Environmental Justice began in the 1980's, and is about the fair and equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens,” said Peggy Salazar, director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. “We have been fighting for over 30 years for just that. The agency charged with protecting us and helping us to achieve our goal continues to disappoint and fail our community.”
“This action from the Illinois EPA is at once immoral and a death decision for many who should be able to rely upon the IEPA to operate in defense of their health and their communities,” said Sheilah Garland-Olaniran from the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign: National Call for a Moral Revival. “How can the IEPA ignore the pleas from hurting people and render this horrific decision? We now will see how or even if the city will move to protect its residents.”
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.