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South Chicago, East Side

Feds Asked To Test Air Pollution At Site Of Planned Southeast Side Metal Scrapper

Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and Reps. Robin Kelly and Jesús "Chuy" García want the feds to test the two recycling facilities operating where Southside Recycling is trying to open.

Top, left to right: Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly and U.S. Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. Bottom: General Iron Industries in Lincoln Park in April 2020.
Provided; Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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EAST SIDE — As the city considers whether to approve controversial plans for another Southeast Side metal recycler, three members of Congress called for an independent federal review of two scrappers already operating on the site.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Reps. Robin Kelly (D-2nd) and Jesús “Chuy” García (D-4th) want the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to analyze levels of metal and particulate matter emitted by South Shore Recycling and Reserve Marine Terminals, 11600 S. Burley Ave. in East Side.

In a letter sent Thursday to Rochelle Walensky, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, Durbin, Duckworth and Kelly called on the agency to perform a “health consultation” to review air emissions at the two facilities.

Both facilities are owned by Reserve Management Group, majority owner of Southside Recycling, which aims to open at the same location. RMG also owns defunct Lincoln Park scrapper General Iron, from which essential equipment and most employees would move to Southside Recycling if permitted.

“It is critical that local officials have a clear, independent and expert evaluation of the existing public health hazard posed by these facilities, and the potential to increase or lower public health hazard risks as a result of permitting [Southside Recycling’s] construction to move forward,” the lawmakers wrote.

García said he supports the politicians’ request for a federal review of air quality in statement posted to Twitter. He also stands in solidarity with the hunger strikers, he said.

“We need to address and rectify historical environmental racism in divested areas, which tend to be Latino and Black,” he wrote.

Durbin and Duckworth hope the Chicago Department of Public Health “would be interested in reviewing the findings of a completed [federal] health consultation,” Courtney Jacquin, Duckworth’s deputy press secretary, told Block Club.

“Good data often promotes good governance,” and the agency “has a proven track record of offering valuable insight and evidence” on potential public health hazards in Illinois, Jacquin said.

The toxic substance agency’s most recent health consultation in Chicago, completed in 2016, concerned KCBX’s Southeast Side petcoke piles, from which dust was being blown into the surrounding neighborhood. In addition to recommending the piles’ enclosure, that report also found high levels of manganese coming from other facilities nearby.

“All parties should welcome this independent analysis of any current public health risks at the RMG site to inform analysis on whether it is in the public interest to allow RMG to expand operations at that location,” Jacquin said.

The city’s health department welcomes opportunities “to better align with state and federal agencies and incorporate their feedback into our process to ensure improved outcomes for our communities,” spokesperson Andrew Buchanan said.

While there is no legal requirement for the city health department to consider the results of any consultation, “we would take the findings into consideration, as we have considered public comment and other relevant information so far in the process,” Buchanan said.

A consultation “would not necessarily require a delay in our permitting process,” he said.

During state environmental regulators’ permit review, Southside Recycling already performed “extensive air dispersion modeling” that factored in emissions from Reserve Marine Terminals, South Shore Recycling and other local facilities, RMG spokesperson Randall Samborn said.

The air dispersion modeling considered federal guidelines for metals, and “the predicted concentrations were well below identified limits,” Samborn said.

The state-mandated modeling showed combined emissions from Reserve Marine Terminals, South Shore Recycling and Southside Recycling “will not exceed established standards,” he said. The Illinois EPA “determined that RMG’s existing businesses continue to qualify … as a minor source of emissions.”

The state’s decision last summer to grant Southside Recycling a permit is now under investigation by the federal EPA.

Chicago’s health department also required Southside Recycling to refile its operating permit application, after its air dispersion modeling was found to have used inaccurate measurements and calculations, among nearly three dozen other “deficiencies.” A new application was filed with the city Jan. 13.

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