LINCOLN PARK — Four people were arrested during a protest Friday night over a controversial metal scrapper that’s trying to open on the Southeast Side.
Dozens of activists and Southeast Side residents gathered at Jonquil Park, calling on city officials to deny a final permit Southside Recycling needs to open the metal shredder. The protest was the latest action after a year of back-and-forth between residents, city leaders and Southside Recycling, known as General Iron when it operated in Lincoln Park.
Activists and some residents have called on the city to deny the permit, saying it will worsen air quality and add to pollution in an already overburdened area, while city officials have delayed taking action on the permit and Southside Recycling has defended its work.
Activists marched through heavy rain, chanting, “What do we want? Clean air!” and “Shut it down!” They went to a home where they thought Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the city’s health department, lives.
There, four people — Olga Bautista, Lauren Bianchi, Oscar Sanchez and Matthew Zemanick — sat in folding chairs, saying they’d stay until Arwady denies the permit. Bautista and Zemanick are leaders for the Southeast Environmental Task Force, while Bianchi is a teacher at George Washington High School and Sanchez is a co-founder of the Southeast Youth Alliance.
They blocked the way to the home and then blocked the street, according to the Sun-Times.
Police arrested the four, citing them and releasing them.
In response to the protest, Arwady sent a tweet, saying, “We are listening carefully to the voices and concerns around the application process, as we have been for well over a year. We expect to make a decision by the end of January.”
Arwady wrote that the health department and the federal EPA are “conducting a robust” health assessment that will amount to “the most rigorous and comprehensive study of a proposed industrial facility in Chicago to date.”
But activists at the protest said they have serious concerns as that deadline nears.
Nick Limbeck, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union who was at the protest, said Black and Latino neighborhoods are hit the hardest be polluters. He taught on the Southeast Side and saw many of his students suffer from asthma due to environmental injustices, he said.
“I’ve taught on the East Side, where I had students that have asthma. … Too many students with asthma, too many folks dealing with pollution on top of everything else that they have to deal with, and it’s just racist policies that are allowing these companies to inundate the neighborhoods,” Limbeck said.
Lincoln Park was once home to metal scrapper General Iron, but it show down at the end of 2020. General Iron Industries sold the scrapper in September 2019 to GII, a subsidiary of Reserve Management Group. It’s Reserve Management Group that’s trying to get the permit for Southside Recycling.
This attempted move from Lincoln Park — a predominantly white and wealthier neighborhood — to East Side — where most residents are people of color — is an injustice for Black and Latino Chicagoans, said Breanna Bertacchi, a member of the United Neighbors of the 10th Ward who was at the protest.
“We did see that the Lincoln Park community residents, they were able to raise their voices, get heard, and General Iron was kicked out,” Bertacchi said. “Unfortunately, historically, the city has seen the Southeast side and communities of color as dumping ground for the city, places where toxic landfills can go.”
Marcelina Pedraza, a board member of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, said residents are “exhausted” by the years-long fight to protect the south lakefront from polluters — but protests are necessary.
“I’m tired of being dumped on,” Pedraza said. “We feel like if this is one of the ways we can get the city to listen or people to listen … by any means necessary to get your voice heard, then we’ll go at all costs.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot delayed the permit process in May when Michael Regan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said the proposal raised “significant concerns.”
But the city health department has already approved other permits for Reserve Management Group, fueling concerns among residents. They said they’ll continue their fight until this permit is denied.
“The city needs to do the right thing to stop this permit from happening,” Pedraza said. “We don’t have to continue this toxic legacy in our neighborhoods.”
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