Residents in three communities on the Southeast Side of Chicago near a proposed scrap-metal operation are far more vulnerable to the stresses of pollution than the North Side neighborhood where the business, General Iron, long operated until the end of 2020, a city official said Thursday.
In the first of two public meetings held online, Chicago officials compared health, environmental, quality of life and other social measures between Lincoln Park, where General Iron operated for decades, and East Side, South Deering and Hegewisch. A rebranded, newly equipped scrap-metal shredding operation is built and awaiting a city permit amid pushback from a number of Southeast Side residents.
A health impact study, to help inform the permit process, is underway by the city and will be wrapped up by early next year. Officials presented some of their initial findings to more than 300 people who joined the Thursday night webcast.
“Overall, Lincoln Park’s quality of life measures are better than the Southeast Side community areas,” said Kirsti Bocskay, an environmental health scientist for the Chicago Department of Public Health. “Compared to Lincoln Park, the Southeast Side community areas have shorter life expectancies and worse self-reported health.”
For instance, life expectancy in Lincoln Park is almost 81 years on average, compared with 74 in South Deering.
While Lincoln Park boasts higher incomes, education levels, employment and insurance coverage, the three Southeast Side communities have greater social vulnerabilities, Bocskay said. Those socioeconomic stresses can lead to poor health and all these factors can be compounded by pollution, she said.
“Southeast Side community areas are less resilient against the effects of environmental stressors,” Bocskay said.
The city will assess the health and environmental impacts on the Southeast Side over the next several months with an aim to complete the process in January. The next meeting will be held Dec. 2.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Administration is weighing the impact the business may have on residents of an industrial area that is already exposed to high levels of air pollution.
In May, Lightfoot suspended a review of an operating permit for a new operation known as Southside Recycling at the request of President Joe Biden’s top environmental official.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan told the Sun-Times that month that the relocation of the business to a neighborhood designated as an environmental justice community was “egregious” and required further review.
The relocation of a polluting business from General Iron’s longtime home in the mostly white, affluent North Side neighborhood, Lincoln Park, to a Latino-majority community area surrounded by largely Black neighborhoods also drew the attention of U.S. housing officials who are investigating whether the city’s zoning and land-use practices are discriminatory and violate the civil rights of residents. That probe by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds billions of dollars in federal programs in Chicago every year, is still being conducted.
Reserve Management Group, which bought General Iron in 2019 sued the city for putting the process on hold and said it is losing millions of dollars in lost business.
Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.