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South Chicago, East Side

Explosion, City Shutdown Won’t Stop State EPA From Letting General Iron Move To East Side

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cannot deny a permit "based upon allegations that a source is violating" the permit's requirements, a spokesperson said.

Pieces of burnt and bent metal lay on the ground as fire crews were called to General Iron Industries in the 1900 north block of Clifton Avenue Monday after a "major explosion," Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said on May 18, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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EAST SIDE — Last week’s explosions that led to General Iron’s indefinite closure will not impact the state’s permit review for the company’s planned move to East Side.

Last week, the metal scrapper at 1909 N. Clifton Ave. was shut down and fined $6,000 for violating state pollution standards during the explosions.

The initial blast occurred in a $2 million piece of pollution-limiting equipment installed after a 2018 citation for excessive air emissions.

General Iron plans to relocate to 11600 S. Burley Ave. by the end of the year after promising to leave the North Side last fall. Before the move, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency must first issue an “air pollution control construction permit.”

“Past or ongoing compliance issues must be addressed through the [IEPA’s] compliance and enforcement programs,” not the permit review process, according to IEPA spokesperson Kim Biggs.

“This stems from past court rulings holding that permitting is no substitute for enforcement,” Biggs said. “The Agency must not deny or condition a permit decision based upon allegations that a source is violating, or has violated, applicable requirements.”

The explosion and shutdown came just four days after an IEPA hearing on General Iron’s permit application, where more than 20 residents spoke against the planned move.

Public input can’t stop the IEPA from issuing a permit either, though officials have said they “may make changes to the permit based upon the comments.”

General Iron “has shown time and time and again that they are irresponsible,” East Side environmental activist Gina Ramirez said. “We don’t need that carelessness on the Southeast Side putting our lives at risk.”

After the explosions, members of the Southeast Environmental Task Force and the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke — the latter of which Ramirez co-chairs — issued a short statement: “Don’t bring that mess down here.”

In an interview with Block Club, East Side Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) criticized former Mayor Rahm Emanuel for negotiating a “backroom deal” to allow General Iron’s continued operation despite its checkered past.

“In light of the explosions, I’m more angry that things get shipped down here without letting us have a say in it whatsoever,” she said. “We’re the ones who have to live in it, who have to breathe the air.”

Reserve Management Group owns General Iron and South Shore Recycling, which is adjacent to the Burley Avenue site where General Iron plans to relocate.

RMG “has been in my ward 28 years without incident,” Sadlowski Garza said, but she isn’t certain General Iron will operate safely in her ward.

The scrapper’s agreement with city officials to leave the North Side followed a 2015 fire, a 2016 city-ordered shutdown, a 2017 harassment lawsuit and the 2018 citation for excessive emissions.

“I’m not against recycling, but there has to be a way that we can recycle cleanly and safely, she said. “With the track record of General Iron, I’m not so sure that that can be done.”

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