Pilsen ‘serial polluter’ Sims Metal should not get city permit, groups say

The scrap metal business seeks the same type of operating permit that was denied to the relocated General Iron on the Southeast Side.

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Heavy machinery takes on piles of scrap metal with the Chicago skyline and Sears/Willis Tower in the background

Community groups want a health impact study and stronger pollution controls before Sims Metal gets a city operating permit.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Community groups are urging the city to hold off on giving an operating permit to a Pilsen scrap metal business until the owner proves the operation will reduce harmful air emissions.

Ahead of a community meeting Friday night, multiple organizations are warning Chicago’s public health department that Sims Metal Management should not receive a new permit because it hasn’t yet built and tested pollution controls required after a state lawsuit.

In addition to the pollution controls, some community members are asking for a health impact study that would take into account other sources in the area that contribute to poor air quality.

“We don’t know the cumulative impact in the community,” said Citlalli Trujillo, president of Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.

For decades, Sims shredded junked cars, appliances and other big items at 2500 S. Paulina St. to salvage metal and resell it. Only Sims and former competitor General Iron ran such facilities in the city.

General Iron was sold in 2019 and ceased operations at its longtime home in Lincoln Park the following year as it built a new business at East 116th Street along the Calumet River. After community outcry over the plan to relocate a polluter, Mayor Lori Lightfoot denied a permit, a matter that is still being fought in court.

Sims is seeking the same type of city permit for large scrap metal operations. The company is installing the new pollution controls after being sued by the state.

Those controls are not in place.

“It is too soon and too risky to issue a permit,” said Donald Wink, a chemist and member of the Pilsen environmental group.

George Malamis, director of operations at the Sims site, said in a statement that the city permit and agreement with the state are separate matters.

The agreement with the state to put pollution controls in place “will ensure our compliance for years to come,” Malamis said.

Air monitors installed around Sims show pollution levels to be within the levels allowed by law, he said. A city spokesperson confirmed that finding.

Other groups are presenting the city with a petition to halt the permit process.

“There is no way of knowing the full extent of the harmful emissions Sims has, over the years, discharged into Pilsen and the lungs of our children,” the petition from the Southwest Environmental Alliance said.

Theresa McNamara, chairwoman of the multi-organization group, calls Sims a “serial polluter” and said she fears the city is pushing through the permit now after more than two years of inaction.

“I don’t understand the rush,” she said.

The meeting Friday is scheduled to be held at 6 p.m. at St. Pius V Catholic Church, 1919 S. Ashland Ave.

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