Final public meeting on Southeast Side metal shredder set for next month

The city will make a decision on the permit for the controversial relocated General Iron facility sometime after the meeting.

SHARE Final public meeting on Southeast Side metal shredder set for next month
A protester attends a rally near Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s home last year urging her to deny the final permit for a Southeast Side scrap-metal operation.

The relocation of the General Iron scrap metal operation to the Southeast Side has spurred many protests over the last two years.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The final public meeting to discuss the health impacts of opening a car-shredding operation on the already polluted Southeast Side will be held Feb. 15.

A virtual town hall will be held online that evening from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Register here to attend. It will be the third and final meeting before Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration determines whether to grant an operating permit to Southside Recycling, a rebranded and relocated business formerly known as General Iron in Lincoln Park.

A decision on the permit was supposed to occur almost a year ago but President Joe Biden’s top environmental official intervened last spring, asking Lightfoot to first conduct a health impact assessment to determine how adding another source of pollution in an already environmentally burdened community will affect residents.

City health officials will be joined by representatives of an environmental consultant to discuss the analysis. Community participants will be able to ask questions, a statement from the health department said. Spanish translation will be provided. The meeting was originally expected to take place this month but was delayed due to COVID-19 illnesses, city officials said.

The relocation of the business has been highly controversial and opposed by Southeast Side residents who call it environmental racism. Federal housing officials are investigating whether the city is violating the civil rights of its residents by targeting low-income communities of color for pollution sources while removing industry from mostly white, wealthy Lincoln Park.

The decision for the permit will be made by Chicago Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, who has been urged by a number of health professionals and her own advisers to deny it because they say it will contribute to additional illnesses from added air pollution. Arwady has said the health impact analysis will help guide her decision.

In the last year, the fully built operation at East 116th Street along the Calumet River has sat idle. Over more than two years, multiple protests, including a hunger strike, were held.

The debate is taking place as a larger environmental justice push by a number of groups has challenged Lightfoot who promised to tackle issues of inequity across Chicago. The mayor’s staff last year began studying the possibility of an ordinance aimed at protecting communities from excessive amounts of pollution. The so-called cumulative impact ordinance has not yet been introduced to City Council.

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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