31 Mar 2023

US environmental agency to conduct internal inquiry over Ohio train wreck

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog division is opening an investigation into the handling of the East Palestine train wreck which caused a toxic disaster in the small Ohio town.

An agency spokesperson declined to comment on why it is launching the investigation, but a public memo from the EPA office of inspector general states that it will “conduct interviews, gather data, and analyze a variety of issues, including hazardous waste disposal, air and water monitoring, soil and sediment sampling, and risk communication”.

The agency’s response to the train crash has drawn intense criticism from the town’s residents and public health advocates who say it has failed to fully protect East Palestine from toxic chemicals released from train cars and a controlled burn of vinyl chloride in the days after the wreck.

Critics say the Joe Biden administration has not been cautious enough in its approach, or taken strong enough action against Norfolk Southern, the rail company behind the disaster. Much of the ire over the management of the toxic wreck’s aftermath was directed at the EPA, and rightwing pundits and politicians have politicized and racialized the controversy.

Public health advocates praised the announcement of the inspector general’s involvement, and the investigation is “warranted”, said Kyla Bennett, a former EPA scientist now with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility non-profit.

“There are too many unanswered questions and conflicting information,” she said. “The IG can get to the bottom of how decisions were made to conduct testing the way they were and whether that was sufficient.”

The EPA’s inspector general has issued reports critical of the agency over what it has found to be a mishandling of controversies in recent years.

Chemical pollution experts and residents have consistently questioned whether the EPA took a robust enough approach to testing water, soil and air in the days and weeks after the wreck and controlled burn.

Residents said they were concerned the EPA told them it was safe to return home too soon just days after the burn. Many had questions about air quality, especially indoors, and received conflicting messaging from state and federal officials about how to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, the contractor hired by Norfolk Southern to test indoor air quality has links to the industry and residents told the Guardian they did not trust the results because the testing was not conducted by an independent entity.

“Putting the fox in charge of the henhouse is never a good idea,” Bennett said.

The controlled burn likely created dangerous compounds such as dioxins and chlorinated PAHs that could pose a long-term health threat in the East Palestine area and downwind. The EPA for weeks resisted a chorus of calls from chemical pollution experts and residents to test for the dangerous compounds.

After the EPA agreed to require Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins, an initial round of sampling found East Palestine soil to contain levels hundreds of times greater than the exposure threshold above which EPA scientists in 2010 found poses cancer risks.

Still, EPA leadership has told Congress the dioxin levels are “very low” and the agency has not taken any additional steps. It remains unclear if environmental officials ever tested for chlorinated PAHs, or PFAS, another toxic substance likely in the ground and water around the site.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Residents in East Palestine still say they are getting rashes and their lungs are irritated, said Amanda Kiger, director of Ohio River Valley Organizing, which has been advocating for residents on the ground. Frustration is also aimed at Ohio governor Mike DeWine’s administration’s environmental agency, she added.

Residents have said financial assistance offered by Norfolk Southern is not enough, and the federal government should be providing more relief, or forcing the rail company to put more towards assistance.

“They’re not doing their job and everyone knows it,” Kiger said. “For lack of a better term, it’s all a clusterfuck, but I’m hoping it’s a good investigation, and thorough.”

30 Mar 2023

Our “Man Of The Month” and Endorsement

HARVEY, Ill. Each month we highlight special citizens that go above an beyond the call of duty to preserve the life of our kids. This month we have selected the Mayor of Harvey Illinois, Chris Clark for his outstanding work and resilience.

Please help us re-elect him~ His service to the people goes beyond politics and we genuinely appreciate your hard work with keeping our kids safe.

“Since I took office, we have added an additional $1 million dollars to the police budget, purchased new vehicles, hired new police officers, reorganized the department to put more officers on the street and are in the process of constructing six (6) new community hubs/police substations,” said Clark. “The decrease in violent crime can be attributed to those actions and the hard work of our officers.”

The Harvey Police Department played a significant role in implementing Clark’s plan. Harvey Police Chief Cameron Biddings credits the performance of officers and community support for the decline in homicides and solving of cases.

“The recent homicide closings have been the result of good police work combined with the cooperation of the community and other law enforcement agencies working together,” said Biddings

Mayor Clark’s comprehensive community safety plan involved making tough and unpopular decisions including the reduction in the hours of operation for liquor license holders. Additionally, the Mayor made a commitment to continue investing in the police department by increasing the starting salary of entry-level officers from $42,000 to $60,000, purchasing 24 new police vehicles and providing body cameras for every officer on the force (instituted well before the state mandated the same requirement)

source. https://chicagodefender.com/city-of-harvey-sees-significant-increase-in-public-safety/

12 Feb 2023

City denies permit for scrapyard planning move to SE Side over pollution concerns

CHICAGO (WLS) — The city of Chicago has denied a permit for a metal shredding company that was planning to move its scrapyard from Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood to the Southeast Side.

For nearly three years, opponents fought that permit by holding rallies outside the mayor’s house and even staging a hunger strike.

RELATED: Hunger strike protests General Iron move to Southeast Side

There was jubilation outside city hall Friday as dozens of Southeast Side residents and activists embracing the moment – and each other.

“It’s a big victory for our right to breathe and live and work in healthy communities,” said Amalia NietoGomez, with Alliance of the Southeast.

They rallied after the city denied a permit on environmental grounds to Southside Recycling for a vehicle shredding facility at East 116th Street along the Calumet River.

The company, formerly known as General Iron, used to operate in Lincoln Park and opponents viewed its relocation from an affluent area to a largely-minority Southeast Side neighborhood as a form of racism.

“Black and brown communities still need protection, still need just air, land, and water protections,” said Breanna Bertacchi, with Stop General Iron Coalition.

Last year, the city appeared close to granting Southside a permit, only to halt the process after the federal government requested a more detailed environmental study.

In rejecting the permit, the Chicago Department of Public Health said the study found “potential adverse changes in air quality and qualityof life that would becaused by operations.”

“It’s not just about the environment versus jobs. We deserve both,” said Marcie Pedraza, with Southeast Environmental Task Force. “We deserve clean, green jobs. We deserve clean air.”

In a statement, Southside’s parent company said: “Politics, not environmental or public health protection, is the only reason that the city denied Southside Recycling’s permit to operate.”

City officials also cited past environmental violations by the company. Southside is suing the city seeking damages of more than $100 million.

We have built the most environmentally conscious metal recycling facility in the country, but politicians and government officials have ignored the facts and instead were cowed by persistent false narratives and misinformation aimed at demonizing our business. What should have been an apolitical permitting process was hijacked by a small but vocal opposition that long ago made clear they would unconditionally oppose this facility, facts and science be damned. Politics, not environmental or public health protection, is the only reason that the city denied Southside Recycling’s permit to operate.

Experts repeatedly determined that Southside Recycling would not threaten public health or environmental justice efforts. When the Illinois EPA completed its exhaustive review process and issued our state air permit in June 2020, its efforts were lauded by career professionals at the U.S. EPA for
taking a rigorous approach to community engagement and environmental justice considerations. And the City’s own health experts, using intentionally inflated parameters to overstate the effects of the operation, still concluded that the facility poses no risk of adverse health effects above the benchmarks defined by the U.S. EPA.

We will continue to pursue all avenues to challenge this decision, including pressing our lawsuit against the city, which will likely result in taxpayers being on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Aside from the litigation, this decision is a clear message to any businesses or industries that might be considering expansion or investment in Chicago: the city is not a reliable partner and is not open for business. Chicago has loudly stated that politics – not signed agreements, its own laws and regulations, nor actual protection of human health and the environment – is the ultimate consideration in all matters.

19 Jan 2023

Construction of General Iron’s new home on Southeast Side moving at full steam ahead

The CEO of the controversial metal shredder — rebranded Southside Recycling — is confident he’ll win the final permit needed from the city to operate in early 2021.

Steven Joseph, chief executive of the company that bought General Iron last year, didn’t mince words earlier this week when asked what would happen if he fails to get city approval to relocate the controversial metal-shredding operation to the Southeast Side.

“We’ll get the permit,” Joseph said confidently during a tour of the site of an $80 million operation along the Calumet River at East 116th Street.

While he acknowledged later that he “doesn’t take anything for granted,” Joseph said city assurances were made last year that gave his company Reserve Management Group the green light to acquire General Iron in Lincoln Park and begin construction for a new operation on the Southeast Side. A two-page agreement with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Administration gives a timeline that helps Joseph’s company move a decades-old business to the South Side by early 2021.

The move from the mostly white, affluent North Side where the car and metal-shredding operation was cited repeatedly for violations of air pollution and nuisance laws has been called racist as it relocates a polluter to Latino-majority East Side. Despite protests from residents, the agreement signed by the Lightfoot Administration 13 months ago all but sealed the deal with Joseph, his company and General Iron.

It was actually Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Administration that started the process to rezone a former industrial area in Lincoln Park and make way for the multi-billion dollar Lincoln Yards residential development. Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza has said she supports the business in her 10th Ward if there are adequate pollution controls. But it is Lightfoot who will put a bow on the move if, as expected, the city gives Joseph’s company the final permit needed to operate.

Construction on a new site where General Iron plans to move its car and metal shredding facility is underway near South Burley Avenue and East 116th Street in the Southeast Side

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

‘Significantly far along’

A tour of the Southeast Side site — most of which is not visible from public streets nearby — given to the Sun-Times earlier this week confirms that substantial construction has already taken place in the new location.

“We’re significantly far along,” Joseph said, adding that RMG will meet city expectations for a permit under new rules for operations like his.

Announced in July 2018, the sale of General Iron wasn’t completed until after the city’s top lawyer Mark Flessner signed a “term sheet” with Joseph in September 2019. That agreement puts a clock on General Iron to cease operations in Lincoln Park and transition to its new home where it will operate under a new name. The rebranded Southside Recycling will shred an estimated 1 million tons of junked cars, appliances and other materials each year so it can resell the metal. That process will create tons of air pollution, community activists say.

“The city was seeking a reaffirmation of General Iron’s commitment to ceasing operations by the end of 2020,” a city statement said. “RMG was seeking a reaffirmation of the city’s commitment to reviewing and processing its permits, and otherwise regulating RMG, in a neutral, even-handed and non-arbitrary manner. The term sheet was viewed as an effective vehicle for memorializing these commitments.”

Joseph shook his head during an interview saying he doesn’t understand the fuss over his business. He says his operation will have a mostly enclosed shredder and more pollution safeguards than what’s now in Lincoln Park.

RMG is building out a new operation on almost 25 acres. Many of those acres were already paved over as of this week. Two buildings are constructed, while a weighing station and the shredder are being built. Control equipment will move from the North Side in early 2021 as General Iron stops accepting scrap metal in Lincoln Park after December 31. The South Side operation will be completed by March 31, the agreement says.

This rendering shows the new metal-shredding operation RMG is building on the Southeast Side.


RMG still needs the second of two city permits, which is to be the subject of a public hearing that will likely draw protests from South Siders. Last Sunday, dozens of students and teachers from nearby George Washington High School joined other demonstrators in a march through the community.

Critics: Public hearing will be window dressing

But the public hearing may be little more than window dressing that will leave residents even more frustrated, critics say.

Already, one online “town hall” was conducted this summer on the matter that didn’t “seem to be genuine,” said Chuck Stark, a biology teacher at George Washington High School.

Stark worries his students will breathe pollution of the RMG operation, which is less than a mile from both the high school and George Washington Elementary School.

“I can’t see any reason that this is a benefit to anyone on the South Side,” Stark said.

Two federal complaints, a lawsuit and a petition to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, say the move violates residents’ civil rights.

Meleah Geertsma, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the city hasn’t shown it will do anything more than rubber stamp what community organizers fear will be a weak city permit regulating pollution.

“We’ve never gotten any other indication,” said Geertsma, who advises Southeast Side residents fighting the relocation.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

The new facility is less than a mile from two schools, a park and homes, including these on East 116th Street.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Southeast Side, near the Indiana border, was once home to multiple steel mills and is still heavily industrial.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

19 Jan 2023

Commentary: Buyer of General Iron: We are a recycler, not a polluter

After decades of quietly providing environmentally responsible recycling solutions, my company’s expansion on Chicago’s Southeast Side has become a misplaced target of attacks, distortions and vitriol. I’d like to separate myth from reality.

General Iron is closing, not relocating.

My company, Reserve Management Group, operates 14 recycling facilities across 10 states. We first established our presence in Chicago’s 10th Ward in 1987. Over 20 years ago, we began consolidating our operations at our current location on 178 acres where steel mills once stood along the Calumet River.

Last year, RMG purchased the assets of General Iron with the knowledge that its long run on Chicago’s North Side was nearing an end. We believed then — and still believe now — that our property is the best location in Chicago to operate a new metal shredding business.

Almost nothing about our expanded facility resembles General Iron. Our new shredder will be enclosed and removed from public view. The new site is 2,500 feet from the nearest public right of way and five times more distant from the nearest homes as compared with General Iron. On top of its seclusion, the site is ideally situated for metals recycling in an underutilized planned manufacturing district that has excellent truck, rail and barge access.

Our expansion is guided by the longtime zoning of our land, the separation from our neighbors and the existence of necessary infrastructure. The racial, ethnic and income demographics of the East Side and other nearby neighborhoods played no role in our considerations. Our significant investment in this project will bring with it hundreds of construction and permanent jobs to our local community on the Southeast Side.

We are a recycler, not a toxic polluter.

The metals recycling industry has been dedicated to the responsible management of resources for its centuries-long history. RMG’s site is well-suited for this type of work, and our financial commitment to this project will ensure that the facility’s equipment, processes and controls will be among the most environmentally responsible operations in the region. What could be greener than managing end-of-life materials through a sustainable process that turns used metals into new products?

When recycling is not promoted and supported, valuable products end up in landfills. Useful metals are lost, and natural resources must be mined to replace them in manufacturing processes. Isn’t it best that those materials be processed at a modern, expansive facility operating an enclosed shredder with the most technologically advanced filtration, water treatment and pollution control equipment?

RMG has followed all proper processes to execute this project.

In September 2019, RMG reached a written agreement with the City of Chicago to close General Iron at the end of 2020. This agreement was publicly disclosed upon its completion.

Once the agreement was finalized, we began applying for and obtaining the necessary permits to construct and operate our new business. The Chicago Department of Public Health recently adopted stringent new rules for large recycling facilities and will soon review our permit application. That application will meet or exceed all applicable regulations and standards.

However, scrutiny of our business will not end upon issuance of permits. The city, together with the state and federal EPAs, will hold us accountable for abiding by our permit conditions. We expect and accept this oversight, as it ensures compliance and facilitates fair competition.

We have tried to allay environmental concerns by outlining the details of this project to interested parties on the Southeast Side. Unfortunately, when we met with community stakeholders and environmental groups in 2018, they rejected a follow-up meeting and told us that they would oppose our expansion no matter what. After 30 years in this business, it is baffling that I am now defending recycling to environmentalists.

Chicago has a laudable goal of being a green, sustainable city. RMG and companies like us play an important part by providing effective and responsible metals recycling. We will continue to hold the door open to neighborhood residents and organizations to have a fact- and science-based dialogue regarding our project. We’ve been made a target, but we are not the enemy.

Steve Joseph is the CEO of Reserve Management Group.

19 Jan 2023

Feds to Lightfoot: Don’t issue General Iron a city permit

A federal housing official tells City Hall that a civil rights complaint makes “persuasive” arguments the metal shredder’s move to the Southeast Side would cause “serious and irreparable injury.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration should hold off on issuing a final operating permit for General Iron’s owner as the government investigates whether the move to the Southeast Side violates the civil rights of residents there, according to a federal official.

In a letter to the city’s Law Department, a U.S. Housing and Urban Development official in Chicago said a federal civil rights inquiry likely would be hampered if the city issues the permit.

Last month, HUD officials confirmed they were investigating after Southeast Side community groups filed a complaint with the agency saying the business’ move from white, affluent Lincoln Park to a Latino-majority neighborhood, surrounded by predominantly Black neighborhoods, was a violation of federal fair housing laws.

The complaint alleges the city is aiding the transfer of the metal-shredding operations — a nuisance that causes air pollution — to the South Side through a Lightfoot administration agreement signed with the business’ owner last year.

As a recipient of HUD funding, the city is required to adhere to the Fair Housing Act, which promotes integrated housing and aims to prevent segregation. Chicago’s zoning and land-use practices are discriminatory, Southeast Side groups allege.

“The city’s actions to facilitate this transfer are central to this complaint,” Lon Meltesen, director of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in Chicago, said in a letter dated last week. “Any further actions to this effect could frustrate efforts to settle this matter.”

Meltesen added that a preliminary review of the complaint brought against the city “finds persuasive complainants’ evidence that this transfer would subject complainant organizations and the neighborhoods they represent to serious and irreparable injury.”

Under an agreement with the city signed in fall 2019, General Iron will stop accepting scrap metal at its North Side location at the end of the year and will begin dismantling its operation there.

Owner Reserve Management Group is building a new shredding operation along the Calumet River at East 116th Street but needs a final city permit for so-called metal recycling. The company hopes to be up and running on the South Side within the first three months of 2021.

The fair housing complaint was brought by three groups, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke and People for Community Recovery. The groups have pointed to city citations for pollution and nuisance. Recently, RMG paid $18,000 to settle its outstanding complaints with the city.

“I’m only hoping it’s indicative they are taking our complaint seriously,” said Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. “I hope HUD holds [the city] accountable.”

A separate lawsuit in federal court in Chicago also alleges residents’ civil rights are being violated.

In his letter, Meltesen asked the city to respond to his request Tuesday, adding “your commitment to pause any action to facilitate this transfer of metal recycling operations is crucial to the successful resolution of this complaint.”

Meltesen didn’t return calls seeking comment. A HUD spokeswoman in Washington said the agency cannot publicly comment on cases under investigation.

A spokeswoman for Lightfoot declined to comment on whether or how the city would answer. In a statement, the city said RMG’s application for the permit has been filed, and information on a “community engagement process” will be announced this week.

In its own statement RMG said it expects the city “will conduct its own rigorous review of the operating permit application, ensuring that the state and local government bodies with the closest interests and best information have and will engage in a fair process.”

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.