EPA orders Pilsen metal shredder to add pollution sensors

The environmental agency wants Sims Metal Management to monitor for metals and other harmful contaminants released in the air.

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Car-shredding business Sims Metal Management in Pilsen is ordered by the EPA to add four monitors to track harmful pollution.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The scrap-metal operation Sims Metal Management is being ordered by federal officials to install air monitors at its sprawling Pilsen operation to determine whether the business is spewing high levels of toxic metals and other harmful contaminants into the air.

Sims, which has long operated along the Chicago River at 2500 S. Paulina St., was sued by the state last year for allegedly failing to show that it is containing pollution from its site. The business is seeking state and city permits to continue operating and also to build equipment with more effective pollution controls.

Within two months, Sims is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to operate at least four high-grade air monitors that measure pollution that will help determine levels of lead, arsenic, mercury, chromium, cadmium and other highly toxic metals. It must then report those results to the EPA.

The EPA wants at least three of the monitors to be placed in the closest proximity to residential areas on the facility’s north, southwest and east boundaries. Sims is only about a mile or less from two elementary schools, Perez and Whittier, and Juarez High School. It’s in close proximity to homes.

With the recent city denial blocking the relocation of the former General Iron business to the Southeast Side, Sims is the only junked-car and large scrap-metal shredding operator in Chicago. Pilsen, like the Southeast Side, is considered an “environmental justice” community deemed overburdened with pollution.

Sims is also ordered to keep track of wind speed and direction, which factor into the spread of pollution. In its order dated Thursday, EPA also is requiring the business to submit a plan explaining how it will meet requirements for pollution control.

“The air pollution monitoring will help EPA assess the company’s compliance with the Clean Air Act,” the agency said in a statement. “The facility is located in an area of Chicago with environmental justice concerns and EPA has an agency-wide commitment to advance environmental justice and deliver benefits to underserved and overburdened communities.”

A spokeswoman for Sims didn’t respond to a request for comment but has previously said the company is “fully committed to complying with the regulations.”

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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