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Dozens of health care, social justice groups demand Lightfoot deny General Iron permit

About 500 individuals and more than 70 organizations sent the mayor a letter urging her to halt the metal shredder’s opening on the Southeast Side. A Rush doctor calls the matter a “textbook example of environmental racism.”

Protesters march in Logan Square.
A protester marches to demand Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deny the final permit that will allow General Iron to move from Lincoln Park, a mostly white neighborhood, to the Southeast Side.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

More than 70 health care, social justice, urban planning and other groups along with around 500 individuals sent a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot asking her to deny the operating permit for a polluting metal-shredding facility in an area that suffers from poor air quality on the Southeast Side.

The letter, dated Monday, was signed by a range of groups, including health care organizations like Esperanza Health Centers and Sinai Urban Health Institute to the Metropolitan Planning Council. More than half of the individual signers were health professionals, organizers said.

The letter said that allowing General Iron, a source of pollution, to relocate from the mostly white, wealthy Lincoln Park to the low-income Latino and Black-majority Southeast Side is contrary to the Lightfoot Administration’s stated goals on health equity. The letter, which also was addressed to Chicago Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, aims to pressure city officials on a matter that has attracted a growing amount of interest and even a hunger strike protest.

“As public health, healthcare and other health and social service workers, we expect that our local health department will follow through on the health equity and racial justice commitments it has been making for years,” the letter said.

At a related news conference Tuesday, Dr. Steven Rothschild, who signed the letter and heads family medicine at Rush Medical College, called the General Iron relocation a “textbook example of environmental racism.”

Giving the company the go-ahead to open a scrap-metal shredder at East 116th Street along the Calumet River contradicts the city’s health department’s mission of mitigating and reducing air pollution on the Southeast Side, Rothschild said.

Such an operation “would worsen the situation for the community and cause more disease that doctors like me see on the front line,” Rothschild said.

In a statement, the city health department said it “takes seriously the concerns raised by our public health colleagues,” and added that it is “still in the process of evaluating the company’s permit application materials, along with the many comments we received from Southeast Side community members and other stakeholders.”

The letter’s signees also said they support those who participated in a recent hunger strike in protest of the proposed permit. That campaign ended last week.

“We do intend to continue to escalate this,” Breanna Bertachhi, one of the hunger strikers, said at the news conference.

The city also faces two civil rights complaints, one in federal court, and the other being conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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