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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Neighbors Say General Iron Pollution Puts Them More At Risk During Coronavirus Crisis, But Scrapper Says It’s ‘Essential’

The owner of General Iron said the scrap metal yard is an essential business. Neighbors, including Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), disagree.

General Iron's scrapyard
Alisa Hauser/ Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN PARK — Neighbors are calling on Gov. JB Pritzker and Illinois lawmakers to shut down General Iron during the state’s stay-at-home order, even though the scrap metal yard is deemed an “essential business.”

Pritzker’s executive order forced the closure of “non-essential” businesses, such as hair and nail salons. “Essential” businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and police and fire stations, are allowed to stay open.

General Iron, a scrap metal shredding facility located along the Chicago River near Lincoln Park, plans to close its operation by the end of 2020 and move to the Southeast Side.

But the company’s new owners, Reserve Management Group (RMG), is asking the Chicago Department of Public Health to let the facility stay open.

In a Tuesday letter to the health department, RMG CEO Steve Joseph said the company fits “squarely” into Pritzker’s qualifications because it is providing an essential service.

General Iron recycles about 740,000 tons of metal each year, and shuttering the yard would have “severe consequences,” Joseph said.

But some neighbors of the riverfront facility disagree.

On Wednesday, neighborhood coalition Clean the North Branch encouraged residents to email Pritzker and State Senators Sara Feigenholtz and Patricia Van Pelt to demand the closure of the scrap yard.

In a sample form email provided to neighbors, the group wrote those who live near General Iron are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, which is a respiratory virus.

“People with asthma and autoimmune diseases are most at risk at this time,” the group wrote. “In addition, children and our community members are home more frequently — exposing all of us on a regular basis to the pollution spewing from General Iron.”

In a tweet on Sunday, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to shut General Iron down.

“[Lightfoot] must close it immediately in response to the pandemic, where an individual’s baseline respiratory health can literally be the difference between life and death if infected,” Hopkins tweeted.

Neighbors have long complained about the health risks associated with “fluff,” a substance that originates from General Iron and routinely coats the neighborhood’s sidewalks, roads, porches and playgrounds. 

The Environmental Protection Agency defines fluff as “fugitive dust.” In 2018, the EPA cited General Iron after inspectors found fugitive dust outside the shredder site. The EPA later dropped the citation.

In early March neighbors called on the EPA to conduct a new study.

In his letter to the city, Joseph disputed neighbors’ claims about air quality. He also said that if General Iron is forced to close, the metal will end up in landfills.

“Unfortunately, rather than engage in constructive dialogue rooted in facts, it appears that certain opponents would prefer to drive governmental decision-making based on inaccurate, incomplete and false information,” Joseph said.

Read Joseph’s three-page letter to the city here.

RELATED: 

Dec. 6, 2015 After Explosions at Extra-Alarm Scrap Yard Fire, Ald. Calls for Its Closure

Dec. 14, 2016 Metal Scrap Yard General Iron’s Future Uncertain After Extra-Alarm Fire

Feb. 2016 Metal Scrap Yard General Iron Faces Growing Backlash From Pols, Neighbors

April 2016 General Iron, Controversial Metal Scrap Yard, Shut Down By City 

July 2017 General Iron Owner Harassed Employees, Rejected $100M Offer For Land: Suit

Dec. 2019 Before General Iron Leaves Lincoln Park For Southeast Side, Neighbors Want Cleaner Air — And Answers

March 2020 Neighbors Of General Iron Ask EPA To Return To Chicago For Independent Study Of ‘Fluff’

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