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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Aldermen Push To Shutter Metal Scrappers During Coronavirus Pandemic

Officials worry General Iron and Sims Metal Management neighbors are at greater risk because of the respiratory nature of COVID-19.

General Iron, 1909 N. Clifton Ave.
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PILSEN — Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) want scrap metal yards polluting Chicago neighborhoods to close as coronavirus continues to spread.

On Tuesday, the aldermen and other politicians called on Gov. JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to use their executive powers to suspend operations at General Iron in Lincoln Park and Sims Metal Management in Pilsen because of the respiratory nature of COVID-19.

During a Zoom conference call, Hopkins said communities already experiencing higher rates of respiratory illness from polluting facilities were at greater risk and more “vulnerable to the threat of COVID-19.”

“Given the EPA’s decision… to suspend pollution regulation, it’s up to us at the local level to protect our communities and do everything we can to help everyone survive this pandemic.”

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

Hopkins said the vigilance of residents and members of the Clean the North Branch group lead to a recent inspection of the Lincoln Park site in December.

Reading from the report, Hopkins said: “Untreated emissions were seen escaping from the top and the side of General Irons metal shredder.”

Hopkins said the fugitive dust was problematic and potentially life threatening to anyone with respiratory illnesses.

“If someone is in the middle of an asthma attack caused by airborne pollutants on the day that they contract the coronavirus, it is a potentially life-threatening situation,” Hopkins said. 

RELATED: Neighbors Of General Iron Ask EPA To Return To Chicago For Independent Study Of ‘Fluff’

“We’re calling on the mayor to follow the path led by the city health inspector, who clearly documented the airborne pollutants coming from this facility, [General Iron] needs to stop operating during this crisis,” Hopkins said.

The Zoom press conference was abruptly cut short after someone hijacked the call and began streaming porn.

RELATED: Chicago Politicians’ Zoom Call Interrupted By Porn-Streaming Hijackers

State Rep. Theresa Mah and Ann Williams offered their support in the effort to suspend polluters amid the coronavirus crisis.

Williams, chair of the Energy and Environment Committee in the house, said the U.S. EPA’s suspension of enforcement of critical health and environmental protections could lead to devastating changes for individuals and communities during the pandemic.

“Environmental Protection and public health go hand in hand, and never has that been more clear,” Williams said. “Instead, as we saw yesterday, the Trump administration doubled down putting even more Americans and Chicagoans at risk.”

On Monday, The Trump administration loosened auto pollution standards, his latest effort to roll back environmental protections.

Ald. Sigcho-Lopez said neighborhoods on the city’s Southwest Side where some of these facilities are located have caused “disproportionate rates of asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure” and are “unduly burdened by environmental injustice.” 

Hopkins and Sigcho-Lopez pointed to violations of the Clean Air Act by both polluters in 2018.

“These enduring chronic effects in impacted communities are a warning that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be disproportionately fatal for people who live there,” Sigcho Lopez said. “… If we are leaders, and truly want to assure maximum health and survival during this pandemic, we cannot [allow] these pollutants to remain in operation.”

Lightfoot said the Health Department monitors are keeping tabs on the facilities. Anything out of the norm would be investigated by the city.

“But what we need to really focus on right now is making sure people are staying home, following the guidance,” Lightfoot said.  

“Obviously, if there are any indicators that any of these manufacturing sites … if anyone is posing an actual danger to the public, we’ve never been shy about acting, and we won’t be shy now or in the future,” the mayor said.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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