City denies General Iron permit application to operate recycling plant on Southeast Side

The Chicago Department of Public Health denied General Iron's permit application to operate a scrap metal recycling facility on the city's Southeast Side.

The final community engagement session was held Tuesday night as part of an eight-month Health Impact Assessment — which was recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Public health officials said they found potential "adverse changes in air quality and quality of life that would be caused by operations" of the facility.

According to the Health Impact Assessment, certain block groups in the Southeast Side community rank among the highest in Chicago for vulnerability to air pollution. Additionally, the population has higher rates of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

With the company's track record in operating similar facilities paired with health vulnerabilities in the surrounding communities, health officials say the facility would present "an unacceptable risk."

"We are committed to protecting and enhancing the health, environment, and quality of life for all Chicagoans. In an already vulnerable community, the findings from the HIA combined with the inherent risks of recycling operations and concerns about the company’s past and potential noncompliance are too significant to ignore," said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D.  

The owner of General Iron filed a lawsuit last May against the city of Chicago for more than $100 million in damages.

The company, now known as Southside Recycling, sued the city for holding up the permit until the environmental assessment was complete. They claimed the delay caused "significant and potentially permanent damage."

In June, a federal judge threw out the lawsuit.

In November, community advocates on the Southeast Side held a town hall meeting, calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Public Health to deny the permit. 


"It is clear that the lessons that we should've learned in the last year and a half have not been taken to heart by Dr. Arwady and Mayor Lightfoot. It is because of exclusionary, undemocratic processes like this, where for years the city greenlights pollution and garbage in Black and Brown neighborhoods and working class neighborhoods, that got us to where we are in our pandemic-related health inequities," said Joanna Tess from Collaborative for Health Equity Cook County.

Residents said they were concerned the scrap-metal operations would further increase pollutants in the air.

A spokesperson for Mayor Lori Lightfoot released the following statement following the denial of the permit.

"Mayor Lightfoot is committed to making Chicago a more equitable, resilient and sustainable city. The denial of the RMG/Southside Recycling permit is a result of Chicago Department of Public Health’s thoughtful, data-driven and rigorous Health Impact Assessment (HIA) which included extensive community input and engagement, and careful evaluation of the company’s past and potential future ability to comply with the City’s regulation standards. We understand and embrace the importance of economic development to Chicago, and today’s announcement underscores the City’s commitment to ensuring that expanding and future industrial facilities will meet the standards for health, environment, and quality of life for our residents."

The full HIA summary report is available on the CDPH website