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Stopping General Iron is just the start of fixing environmental problems on the Southeast Side

General Iron’s metal shredding facility is shown here under construction on the Southeast Side in October 2020. Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

This Letter To The Editor first appeared on May 18, 2021 in the Chicago Sun-Times. 

We agree with the Sun-Times’ recent editorial on General Iron that something must be changed so that future decisions regarding pollution and environmental justice are able to be made more quickly and in consideration of impacted residents.

As the editorial noted, the proposed relocation of General Iron’s recycling facility from Lincoln Park, a majority white neighborhood, to the Calumet Industrial Corridor, which is majority Hispanic/Latinx and Black, caused a great public outcry and inspired a month-long hunger strike by several residents in protest.

While we are pleased that Mayor Lori Lightfoot and U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan finally listened to community members who fought to stop the General Iron project, the proposed facility is the most recent in a long line of environmental injustices along the Calumet River that need to be addressed.

To that end, our organizations, in partnership with Calumet Connect, recently released six policy recommendations for Chicago as it overhauls zoning in order to improve public health and address environmental injustice for residents living near the Calumet Industrial Corridor. They include:

  1. Using a process that encourages and uses community feedback, including feedback about health equity;
  2. Making decisions based on the cumulative impact of development;
  3. Closing the loophole that allows industries in the Calumet Industrial Corridor to handle and store hazardous materials without special review;
  4. Creating and enforcing policies that reduce negative public health impacts of warehouse truck traffic;
  5. Requiring industrial facilities to plant and maintain landscaping that separates facilities from residential neighborhoods; and
  6. Improving the public’s access to information about public health and environmental impacts of industrial activities.

We urge Mayor Lightfoot to take these recommendations into account as the city reassesses the true impact that General Iron’s relocation would have on residents in the Calumet Industrial Corridor. This is an opportunity to set a high bar for future generations. After decades of fighting to prevent new pollution sources and clean up existing sources, the Southeast Side deserves no less.

Olga Bautista, Southeast Side resident, community planning manager, Alliance for the Great Lakes
Christina Harris, director of land use and planning, Metropolitan Planning Council