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Lincoln Park, Old Town

General Iron Seeks City Approval To Reopen As Activists Urge Shutdown To Continue Through COVID-19 Pandemic

It's not clear when the city inspections will take place or when the scrapper could reopen if given the green light.

File Photo: Smoke from a fire rises at the General Iron Industries in December 2015. | Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN PARK — General Iron is ready for city inspectors to tour the facility and evaluate its repaired equipment, signaling a potential avenue for the scrap metal recycler to reopen its Lincoln Park site.

Since dual explosions halted operations in May, General Iron has repaired its regenerative thermal oxidizer thermal oven — a $2 million piece of equipment designed to decompose hazardous air pollutants. The scrap metal shredder also installed a lower explosive limit (LEL) monitor — a device designed to detect combustion.

“We’re ready,” spokesman Randall Samborn said Friday. “We’re anxious to resume shredding as soon as possible. … All repairs and modifications have been completed.”

Before the shredder can reopen, inspectors from the city’s Public Health and Buildings departments, and the Chicago Fire Department must evaluate the site and review equipment for code and environmental compliance.

The departments are “currently working on scheduling a date and time for city inspectors to visit the site,” Department of Buildings Patrick Mullane said.

“If operations are approved to go forward — with the new protective equipment installed (Chicago Department of Public Health) will continue frequent monitoring of the site, and in the event of any violations, will ensure that the company takes proper action to remedy the issue,” buildings spokeswoman Mimi Simon said previously.

General Iron also is installing water misters and netting to reduce dust, pollutants and other substances, like the “fluff” that emanates from the facility and regularly coats neighbors’ sidewalks and playgrounds, Simon said.

Both General Iron and the city hired outside consultants to investigate the May 18 explosions. These reports were completed and published Friday. Read them here.

Neighbors and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) have called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to keep General Iron closed throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), Illinois State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) and Kiana Courtney of the Environmental Law and Policy Center have also demanded Lightfoot keep the shredder closed.

It’s not clear if Lightfoot will heed the calls of neighbors and local leaders; Simon did not provide a timeline for when city inspections will take place.

Leaders from the city’s public health department will host a virtual town hall at 5 p.m. Monday to answer questions about General Iron’s reopening. Learn more here.

General Iron will close its Lincoln Park facility by the end of 2020, per an agreement with Lightfoot. The shredder plans to relocate to 11600 S. Burley Ave. in the East Side neighborhood on the city’s far South Side.

Documents on General Iron’s planned move can be viewed on the city’s website.

Timeline at General Iron:

  • March 26Neighbors call on Gov. JB Pritzker to remove General Iron from the list of “essential businesses” allowed to operate during the stay at home order.
  • April 15: Neighbors ask Lightfoot to close General Iron during the pandemic: “It’s absurd that during this crisis we all try to protect the most vulnerable members of our community from the effects of a still largely uncontrolled and unknown disease. While at the same time, a well known and controllable risk factor continues to operate as an essential business at extended hours despite repeated violations.”
  • May 18: An early morning explosion at General Iron sends two “booms” through the neighborhood and destroys a $2 million piece of equipment that brought General Iron into compliance. The Fire Department begins an investigation: “Work at the site has stopped as a result of the incident and will not resume until the city has determined the cause of the explosion,” a spokesman said.
  • May 20: Lincoln Park neighbors introduce a “citizen resolution” to City Council asking for Lightfoot to order the scrapyard closed through the pandemic. Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) signs on as co-sponsor. The resolution is ignored.
  • June 24: City officials quietly allow General Iron to partially resume operations in Lincoln Park.
  • June 25: After months of opposition, Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration approves General Iron’s move to East Side.
  • July 1: Mayor Lori Lightfoot won’t publicly commit to an executive order keeping the plant closed: “We’re still in the midst of doing our investigation. Once that investigation is complete, we will issue a report that will be public, and then we’ll go from there.”
  • July 8: The city modifies General Iron’s closure order, allowing its Lincoln Park site to resume non-shredding operations. An investigation into the two explosions continues.
  • July 17: City officials hold closed-door meeting to discuss General Iron
  • July 27: City unveils environmental “reform agenda” for General Iron
  • July 31: The city publishes two reports from outside consultants investigating the explosion

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