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City orders Lincoln Park metal scrap yard closed following 2 explosions

General Iron Industries spokesman Randall Samborn said there was no fire after the initial explosion, and that the company is investigating potential causes, including “potential sabotage.”

A hazmat incident was reported May 18, 2020, at the General Iron Industries metal scrap yard in the 1900 block of North Clifton Avenue.
A hazmat incident was reported May 18, 2020, at the General Iron Industries metal scrap yard in the 1900 block of North Clifton Avenue.
Ald. Brian Hopkins/Twitter

A controversial North Side scrap recycler will remain closed under city orders following two Monday explosions that sent plumes of smoke into the air.

Fire crews responded shortly after 9 a.m. to an explosion in the metal shredding conveyor system at General Iron Industries, 1909 N. Clifton Ave., Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt said in an emailed statement.

No one was reportedly injured, officials said.

Two explosions damaged multiple buildings, including a new piece of equipment recently installed to comply with the federal EPA consent decree entered in 2018, Ald. Michele Smith (43th) said in a newsletter to residents.

The initial explosion happened in the newly installed regenerative thermal oxidizer, Smith said. “The heat was so intense that it flowed back to the initial point of entry, triggering the safety ‘blow-out doors’ of the filter building and damaging it significantly,” Smith said. A building to the north was also damaged, she said.

The Chicago Department of Buildings and the Fire Department implemented an emergency closure order against the facility, according to officials. The order cannot be lifted until a repair plan is approved and permits are issued, Smith said.

A “major explosion and fire” sent a “fireball” and “mushroom cloud” of smoke into the air, according to Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes the Lincoln Park recycling facility. Hopkins said there were increased pollution readings in the surrounding neighborhood.

Air quality tests done immediately after the explosion show “there is no apparent immediate health risk to residents and the surrounding community,” according to the Fire Department, which is investigating the explosion with the Chicago Department of Public Health.

The company agreed to suspend operations pending a city investigation and safety concerns, CFD spokesman Larry Langford told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The city will issue citations for any potential environmental violations, Merritt said.

“The health and safety of Chicago’s residents remain a top priority, and we will continue to provide more information as details are gathered,” Merritt said.

General Iron Industries spokesman Randall Samborn said there was no fire after the initial explosion, and that the company is investigating potential causes, including “potential sabotage.”

“We are fully cooperating with city officials,” Samborn said.

Last September, General Iron Industries agreed to vacate the Lincoln Park site by the end of 2020 for the Southeast Side. Hopkins, who has called for the plant’s closure due to the pollution it sends into the neighborhood, renewed calls to shut down the plant.

“Permanent and immediate closure of this hazardous facility is no longer a discussion point, it must happen NOW, by executive order,” Hopkins said Monday on Twitter.

In 2015, General Iron Industries had two separate explosions at its facility, whose clout-heavy owners have donated well over $1 million to politicians in recent years.

The company installed extra pollution controls in 2019 after being ordered into a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency for failing pollution tests and operating without the correct permit.

A neighborhood group, Clean the North Branch, released a statement Monday condemning the company as a “polluter.”

“This is what we have been telling everyone for months and years: General Iron is a serial polluter and rule breaker that is a danger to families. What more do Mayor Lightfoot and Gov. Pritzker need? Shut. Them. Down. Now,” the group said.

The scrap yard explosion comes just weeks after the botched demolition of the shuttered Crawford power plant that sent plumes of dust through the Lower West Side. Facing mounting public pressure, Mayor Lori Lightfoot canceled plans for further demolition at the plant, citing the “health and safety of Chicago’s residents.”