City delays decision on Southeast Side metal shredder permit

An assessment of the public health impact of rebranded General Iron operation has been slowed by COVID-related delays, the city said Tuesday.

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Southeast Side parent Alejandra Martinez speaks outside the Chicago Department of Public Health in the Loop, asking the city to deny a metal shredder from opening.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The city won’t make a decision on whether to allow a controversial scrap metal operation to open on the Southeast Side until February or later, city health officials said Tuesday.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady previously said she would decide by the end of January the fate of a permit for Southside Recycling, the rebuilt, relocated and rebranded General Iron. Residents have pushed back against the relocation of the polluting business from a white, affluent community to a low-income community of color already experiencing poor air quality.

Citing COVID-19, city officials now say that a health impact assessment related to the addition of more air pollution in an already environmentally burdened community has been slowed. A third virtual public meeting to discuss the assessment will be held sometime next month.

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“A third and final community meeting to discuss the [health assessment] findings is currently being scheduled,” a health department spokesman said in an email. “Because of delays caused by a COVID outbreak among the team assisting with on-site research and COVID-related lab slowdowns, we expect to hold the meeting in February.”

Arwady has said she will make a decision on issuing the operating permit shortly after the final public meeting.

On Tuesday, a group of environmental and community organizers delivered three letters, including a petition led by University of Illinois Chicago public health faculty, to Arwady’s downtown office asking her to deny the metal shredder’s permit.

Other health professionals, including members of Arwady’s own advisory board, have made similar pleas.

The fight has drawn the interest of federal housing officials who are investigating whether the city’s zoning and land-use practices are racist and violate the civil rights of Chicago’s residents. The permit decision was delayed after President Joe Biden’s top environmental official asked the city to conduct the health assessment.

On Monday, Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., called for the rejection of not only the Southeast Side permit but also of a city operating permit being sought by Pilsen metal shredder Sims Metal Management.

“Sims Metal and General Iron have abysmal track records when it comes to the environment and the safety of the communities,” Garcia said in a statement. “Our communities deserve better, particularly Latino and Black residents who experience higher rates of respiratory illness from polluting facilities.”

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

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