Southeast Side Residents Condemn City’s Zoning Rules that Pave the Way for Dirty Industry like General Iron and Others to Move to Their Community
Southeast Side residents and advocates held a press conference today in response to General Iron’s announced plans to move its Lincoln Park metal shredder, cited last week by the EPA for air pollution violations, to a new facility on Chicago’s Southeast Side. Residents at today’s press conference denounced the City’s zoning laws that encourage dirty industries to concentrate next to their community. Advocates criticized the City’s efforts to modernize the North Side’s industrial corridor for further facilitating the accumulation of dirty industry in the mostly minority and working-class communities of Chicago.
“The Southeast Side doesn’t need a car shredder up the street from our high school,” said Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Southeast Side Environmental Task Force. “As long as the City fails to fix the rules that give polluters the right to come to neighborhoods that are already overburdened with pollution, dirty industry will continue to accumulate next to our homes, schools, and parks.”
The state-maintained air monitor at Washington High School has historically registered high levels of pollutants, and a 2015 air monitoring study by U.S. EPA at adjacent Rowan Park identified several heavy metal hot spots at or near the site of the proposed new facility, including elevated arsenic levels.
General Iron is slated to relocate next to a proposed new massive distribution hub that would bring thousands of heavy diesel trucks to the community. The City has proposed a $93.4 million TIF for the over 260-acre parcel of land that would cover both developments in addition to the adjacent George Washington High School. Residents also questioned the use of public tax dollars to support such projects.
“The community is exhausted from fighting one polluter after another, and the City is not doing its part,” said Gina Ramirez, co-chair of the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke. “Families living in the Southeast Side are being treated like we’re second class. Before touting Chicago as a global leader on environmental issues, the City has to get its own house in order.”
General Iron has a record of environmental issues, in addition to last week’s enforcement action by U.S. EPA and ongoing complaints from its current neighbors. In 2006, the U.S. EPA reached a settlement with General Iron that resulted in large fines and some added environmental protections. The scrap yard was temporarily shuttered by City authorities in 2015 after an extra-alarm hazmat fire. A 2017 analysis by the University of Illinois at Chicago found high levels of air pollution attributed to the facility. The agency responded by issuing the company an information request to do testing, which was completed this summer and serves in part as the basis for U.S. EPA’s current violation notice. In addition, the company is facing a lawsuit by a family member that alleges falsification of documents related to handling of hazardous wastes.
Other cities have dealt with similar situations very differently. In May of this year, a Minneapolis car shredder moved 40 miles outside of the city after settling a lawsuit with Minnesota state environmental regulators. Neighboring St. Paul banned metal shredders in the 1990s. The State of California is currently proposing to regulate car shredders as hazardous waste facilities, based on a comprehensive study showing a long list of environmental hazards from these operations, from ongoing air pollution to hazardous fires to soil contamination and polluted stormwater runoff.
“While other major cities ban them outright and other states are proposing to regulate them as hazardous waste facilities, Chicago wants to give them our tax dollars to relocate near a high school,” said Meleah Geertsma, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The City must do better to protect the health of its residents and stop polluters from having free rein in our neighborhoods.”
In 2008, the Southeast Side Environmental Task Force began talking about its Green Economic Corridor plan to revitalize the area through sustainable industrial development in response to the constant burden of pollution and threat of new of polluters locating on the Southeast Side. In contrast, residents at today’s press conference expressed concerns that the City has yet to present plans to curb dirty industry and attract greener development in the Southeast Side or other similar environmental justice communities.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 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.