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Protesters arrested after blocking street outside Arwady’s home in effort to implore her to deny permit for metal shredder

Chicago officials promise a “rigorous” health impact study before determining if Southside Recycling is allowed to open, but a UIC health professor disputes the assertion.

Police remove protesters from outside City Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady’s house Friday night.
Brett Chase/Sun-Times

Four people protesting a proposed Southeast Side metal shredder were taken into police custody Friday night after they blocked the street outside Allison Arwardy’s home Friday night in an effort to implore the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health to deny a permit to open the shredder.

The police arrived on the scene of the North Side protest after about 80 protesters marched down the streets outside her home.

“Shut it down,” demonstrators cheered.

The four arrested Friday night are Olga Bautista, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force; Lauren Bianchi, a teacher at George Washington High School; Oscar Sanchez, co-founder of the Southeast Youth Alliance; and Matthew Zemanick, faith community organizer at SETF.

The four initially blocked the entrance to Arwady’s home, then blocked the street. Police then issued citations to the four and let them go.

In a tweet sent during the protest, Arwady said, “We are listening carefully to the voices and concerns around the application process, as we have been for well over a year.”

She said Southside Recycling, which is awaiting a decision on a final permit needed to operate at East 116th Street along the Calumet River, is the subject of a “robust” Health Impact Assessment along with the U.S. EPA.

“Once completed it will be the most rigorous and comprehensive study of a proposed industrial facility in Chicago to date,” Arwady wrote.

She said the decision on the permit is expected in January.

Formerly home to Chicago’s long-shuttered steelmakers, the Southeast Side is heavily industrial, and some community members say they want the city to stop sending polluters to an area that already suffers from poor air quality.

Southside Recycling is the relocated, rebranded and rebuilt operation formerly known as General Iron in Lincoln Park. The city’s role in moving the business is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.

The protest came a night after a public hearing on the proposal.

“This is a big burden to expect us to deal with more pollution,” Donald Davis, a history teacher at George Washington High School, said during one breakout session at the online meeting Thursday.

Before the meeting, Serap Erdal, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago, co-authored a 36-page critique to the city regarding the health impact assessment on behalf of environmental and community organizations.

The city’s analysis so far “falls woefully short in terms of both process and substance of satisfying even the most basic requirements” for such an assessment, the paper from Erdal said.

Specifically, Erdal said the city is still taking too narrow a view of the impact of adding another polluter in an area already experiencing a “cumulative burden” of health and environmental hazards.

She also takes issue with the specific air quality data the city is evaluating with the help of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying it’s limited in scope.

The approach to the assessment “exacerbates” the “inequities in the city’s land use and environmental permitting processes,” the Erdal analysis found.

Erdal was not happy with the meeting itself.

“They scripted the whole thing,” she said in an interview.

The meeting was the second of three planned. Another meeting is expected to take place next month.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.