Fire at Sims scrap metal yard in Pilsen sparks anger among neighbors

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez is concerned about a series of problems at the car-shredding operation. The fire started Saturday in a pile of scrap. No injuries were reported.

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A fire at Sims Metal Management in Pilsen on Saturday heightened neighbors’ concerns about the car-shredding operation.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A fire at a Pilsen scrap metal yard over the weekend is raising more concerns about the operation as it seeks a new city operating permit, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said Monday.

Chicago firefighters were called to Sims Metal Management on Saturday afternoon after a fire started in a pile of scrap. It took more than an hour to put out the fire, and there were no reported injuries, a department spokesman said.

But Sigcho-Lopez is wary about a pattern of problems at Sims, which was sued by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul over environmental violations in 2021. He’s seeking more information about the fire as well as air-pollution monitoring.

“We’re really concerned about the safety of this operation,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

His office fielded complaints Saturday from neighbors who reported “strong chemical smells that are causing headaches and nausea.”

“My nostrils and my eyes watered immediately,” said Roberto Montaño, a neighborhood resident. 

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The Chicago Fire Department was called to Sims Metal Management on Saturday after a fire started in pile of scrap. Nearby residents complained about strong chemical smells causing headaches and nausea.

Provided / Roberto Montaño

Montaño noticed the smell and the smoke as he was driving by the site, he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Sims to install air monitors around its operation at 2500 S. Paulina Ave. last year. EPA gets monthly air data from Sims but asked that the company expedite its report for air-quality readings for Saturday through Monday.

In 2021, Sims settled 15 city tickets for 30 violations issued the prior year, paying $18,000 and admitting no wrongdoing, records show. Among the accusations dropped were multiple citations for air pollution.

The Pilsen business is seeking what’s called a large recycling facility permit, similar to one denied for the relocated General Iron last year.

For decades, General Iron and Sims shredded cars, large appliances and other scrap metal for reuse. 

In a written statement, Sims said it called the fire department “out of an abundance of caution” and apologized “for any concern this incident may have caused our community neighbors.”

City inspectors visited the site Monday.

“It’s very disturbing,” said Theresa McNamara, chairwoman of the Southwest Environmental Alliance. 

Her coalition opposes Sims continuing to operate in Pilsen.

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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