By: Julia Weil, Community Organizing Intern
As we have seen countless times, hazardous contamination is disproportionately present in areas where more minority and low-income people live. Though this has been both protested at specific sites and researched on a larger scale for many years, it not only continues, but the companies responsible both refuse to take responsibility and even deny the environmental racism that drives their decision-making.
The process of moving potential contaminating facilities out of white neighborhoods and into majority minority neighborhoods can be seen in the case of Southside Recycling, owned by Reserve Management Group, in Chicago. Formerly General Iron, the scrap metal shredding facility was proposed to move out of Lincoln Park, a wealthier and whiter area of Chicago, and into the already environmentally over-burdened Southeast Side, in an area where the majority of residents are Latino.
In Lincoln Park, before the proposed location change, the General Iron facility was protested by residents due to the noise, smell, and particulate matter, and a notice of violation was issued due to emissions. The new company name doesn’t change the impact that the metal shredding facility could have on surrounding communities.
Recognizing the sickeningly common narrative continued by the location change, local activists on the Southeast Side conducted several protests and participated in a hunger strike. The Southeast Side of Chicago has a long history of environmental racism and pollution, driven by zoning laws. In fact, over just the past 7 years, as many as 75 facilities in that area were inspected for “allegedly violating the Clean Air Act.”
However, the owners of Southside Recycling continue to defend their actions, asserting that this move isn’t due to environmental racism and the new facility will be “environmentally conscious.” The owners cite the greater area of the plot available on the Southeast Side as being protective, though an elementary school and a high school sit just a half mile from the new site, and the area in which they planned to relocate already suffers from a higher level of contamination.
The planned relocation resulted in a civil rights lawsuit being filed against General Iron, and has attracted the attention of the EPA. Michael Regan, the EPA’s 16th Administrator, has declared that the Southeast Side of Chicago suffers from environmental injustice, and has asked that the city delay the issuing of a permit for this facility. Hopefully, this is a first step towards halting development of the facility altogether in this location, followed by more protective litigation for over-burdened communities.
Photo Credit: Antonio Lopez