Weekend fire at Simsmetal in Pilsen highlights environmental and health concerns, residents and aldermen say


A fire at the Sims Metal Management plant in the Pilsen district last weekend in a scrap pile has highlighted residents’ concerns about the facility as Sims seeks a new permit to operate from the city.

Aldo. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25, who lives in a ward that includes Pilsen, told the Tribune on Wednesday that the presence of the Sims factory in the neighborhood has left unanswered questions for many residents.

“With communities already plagued by pollution for decades and generations, it’s time to demand the community impact studies promised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Chicago Department of Public Health.”

“Despite these promises, there is no accountability for these companies,” he added.

On Saturday afternoon, Sims supervisors noticed smoke coming from a large pile of scrap metal being recycled. According to Sims’ initial statement, no flames were visible, but the Chicago Fire Department was called “out of an abundance of caution.”

Firefighters responded within five minutes, spraying the mountain with water until the smoke disappeared, the statement said. No injuries have been reported. A spokesperson for CFD confirmed that the department answered calls at the factory.

Edmund Diaz, 68, a resident of Pilsen, told the Tribune he was unaware of the fire over the weekend, but added that the smell coming from the factory was normal and unpleasant. Complaining but he said nothing has changed.

“No one listens to us,” he said.

The Sims Scrap Metal Recycling Facility at 2500 S. Paulina St. is located on the South Fork of the Chicago River. For years, the neighborhood has fought to shut down The Sims as business licenses from the city and state remain ambiguous.

In 2018, U.S. EPA claims The Pilsen facility violated air quality laws by emitting airborne particulate matter that could cause respiratory problems. Sims paid a civil fine of $225,000.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raul sued Sims in 2021 in Pilsen. Raoul argued that Sims’ release of hazardous compounds, volatile organic substances, violated the Illinois Environmental Protection Act.

In September, the Illinois Department of Environmental Protection granted Sims a construction permit to enclose a controversial shredder to reduce particulate matter and volatile organic emissions from the facility. , the US EPA required companies to monitor the air around their facilities so that federal agencies can measure compliance with the Clean Air Act.

The US EPA said early test results in September said the surveillance device “didn’t perform as designed.”but as a result January 30, US EPA In November and December, it said no concentrations of contaminants causing human health effects from short-term exposure to the air around the facility were detected. However, more data are needed to assess long-term risk.

The city of Sigcho Lopez said it needs to conduct a study to examine the cumulative effects of pollution in its neighborhoods before it renews Sims’ driving permits. So far, there is enough evidence that the facility is unsafe that it should be moved to a non-residential area, he said.There are currently 2,500 children near the factory, he said. He says Sigcho-Lopez.

Residents reported a “strong chemical odor” Saturday afternoon that “caused headaches and nausea,” according to the alderman’s office. I had the same concerns.

“Shortly after CFD cleared everything, we were able to resume operations,” Sims said in a statement. “We apologize for any concerns this incident may have caused neighbors in our community.”

On Sunday, Sigcho-Lopez requested that the US EPA share all data available from air monitors before, during and after the fire. Sims said 24-hour particulate matter air quality standards were not exceeded during the fire, but readings on monitors on the north side increased during the duration of the fire.

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Air monitoring data for February is typically not available until March 30, but the US EPA asked Sims to get the data for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday as soon as possible.

US EPA and city inspectors have been visiting the Sims facility since the fire on Saturday.

“It was clear that there was no emergency plan and no way to notify residents,” Sigcho Lopez said. “If this was a bigger fire or bigger problem, we didn’t have a contingency plan.”

Last autumn, the inhabitants of Pilsen had had enough. They held a public meeting at a local church with community leaders and his IEPA director, John Kim, to discuss the existence of a scrap metal recycling facility in the neighborhood and oppose the possibility of reopening the city. expressed. Sims applied for his November 2021 permit.

“It is right that our community is upset and backlashed,” Sigcho Lopez said.

Maddie Ellis of the Chicago Tribune contributed.


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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