This marks a major step forward in dismantling the environmental racism that has plagued the neighborhood for decades.
Chicago city officials announced late Friday that it would stop the permitting process that would have allowed General Iron to relocate its notorious metal shredding plant from the affluent, predominantly white neighborhood of Lincoln Park to a working-class Latino and Black community on Chicago’s Southeast Side. The decision—which comes after EPA administrator Michael Regan called on the city to stop the process and to conduct an environmental justice analysis—is a major step forward for local residents and environmental justice groups who have fought the plant’s proposed move for years.
“If General Iron’s plant was too dirty for Lincoln Park residents, it was too dirty for residents on Chicago’s Southeast Side,” says Gina Ramirez, NRDC’s Midwest outreach manager and a Chicago resident. “Today’s victory was hard won by Chicagoans who chose to fight for the health of their families and neighbors.”
Shuttered at the end of last year after more than a century in use, General Iron’s massive plant broke down metal waste, often from old cars—spewing toxic pollutants into the air and coating everything from nearby porches to playgrounds in oily film and metallic dust. General Iron, which was also responsible for a number of fires and explosions in recent years, including a major explosion last May, had been shut down for public health citations.
After years of pushback from Lincoln Park residents, the company announced its plan to shutter the plant by the end of 2020—making room for a multibillion-dollar residential and retail development—and to move its metal-shredding operations to the Southeast Side, which is already overburdened by industrial pollution. The proposed new location was also nearby an elementary and high school and sat on the banks of the contaminated Calumet River.
The proposal prompted fierce backlash from nearby residents, including a weeks-long hunger strike by a number of local activists and continued protests from a coalition of environmental justice groups, among them the People for Community Recovery, Southeast Environmental Task Force, Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, Southeast Youth Alliance, United Neighbors of the 10th Ward, Bridges/Puentes, Southeast Side Educators for Environmental Justice, George Washington High School Student Voice Committee, Alliance of the Southeast, and NRDC.
“While we’re celebrating this win, it’s just a first step,” Ramirez says. “What we need next is real reform over how land-use permitting decisions get made and who gets to make them. Impacted communities need a seat at the table—and conversations must prioritize public health, not profits.”