General Iron has been making headlines for more than a year because of its pollution issues and recent attempt to relocate. RMG, General Iron’s parent company, has closed its long time North Branch-located metal shredding and recycling operation.[1] For many North Side neighbors, the facility’s closure was a win after a years-long battle to close the facility over environmental health and safety concerns from the facility’s operations, such as two explosions over the past five years.[2]

But there has been significant public outcry against General Iron’s plans to relocate to the Southeast side of Chicago at 116th and Burnham Street. Coalitions of Southeast side residents have been protesting for months, advocating for better air quality and preventing the relocation of General Iron to their neighborhood. The Natural Resource Defense Council has drawn national attention to the facility’s explosions, contribution to air pollution, and desire to move to a predominantly Latinx neighborhood.[3]

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued RMG a construction permit to build at the new location, controlled by its subsidiary Southside Recycling, in June 2020.[4] While acknowledging community concerns about placing another industrial operation in an environmental justice community that has been historically “disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution,” IEPA said in its news release about approving the permit that “enforcement cannot be conducted through permitting activity” and that it could not “deny a permit decision upon mere allegations.”[5] RMG is still awaiting a response for an operation permit.

The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) is responsible for issuing air pollution control permits for the municipality. RMG must obtain two types of air pollution control permits to operate as a recycling facility: an air pollution control permit and a recycling facility permit.[6]

As of September 2020, CDPH has issued RMG an air pollution control permit for installation, but not for operation of pollution control equipment—meaning RMG has yet to operate its new facility.[7] The city of Chicago has requested assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding whether to issue the operating permit to RMG.[8] In a statement, U.S. EPA said that it “recognizes that there have been longstanding environmental justice issues faced by the surrounding community on the Southeast Side.”[9]

In December 2020, CDPH proposed a new ordinance to protect air quality by substantially increasing fines for air pollution violators.[10] Egregious violators could be fined up to $50,000 under the ordinance.[11] The ordinance is intended to be a more “aggressive effort to hold companies accountable for excessive dust and other air pollution violations,” including for the types of citations General Iron has received in the past. [12]

Environmental Justice Concerns

Many residents of Chicago are exposed to poor ambient environmental conditions due to high rates of Particulate Matter (known as PM2.5), a highly toxic air contaminant composed of a mixture of fine carbon soot particles and gases from a variety of sources such as power plants, vehicle emissions, construction sites, airplanes, wood burning, fires, and dust.[13] Chicago has several sources that contribute to such air pollution, such as construction, transportation, and the use of diesel equipment.

PM2.5 is particularly dangerous to public health because it penetrates the lungs, causing asthma and other respiratory issues—which impact vulnerable populations (older adults and children) at a higher rate.[14] PM2.5 is traditionally measured by stationary monitors, though air quality is highly localized and differs between neighborhoods—even streets can have different air quality.[15]

Chicago’s Black and Brown communities have historically suffered from a disproportionate pollution burden due to the intentional placement of point source pollutants in their communities.[16] Municipal leaders had used zoning policies to place transportation centers, industrial facilities and other polluting entities in Black and Brown communities, taking advantage of their vulnerability and lack of protection under current legislation.[17]

There is concern during the COVID-19 pandemic that those who live in already polluted neighborhoods are more vulnerable to the severe COVID-19 cases due to their existing poor ambient air quality and the respiratory health issues associated such as increased rates of COPD.[18] For example, in 2018, about 15% of the adult population in South Deering, where RMG wants to relocate to, has asthma, compared to 8.2% in Lincoln Park.[19]

These concerns of environmental racism regarding General Iron’s relocation have led to several legal complaints, including a civil rights complaint about how closing the facility in a predominantly white area and reopening in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood would violate federal fair housing laws.[20] In late January, U.S. EPA opened an investigation against Illinois EPA regarding potential discrimination against Latinx and African American communities for the relocation of General Iron.[21]

The challenges and objections of the relocation General Iron is a demonstration of the ongoing environmental injustices that occur in the city of Chicago. However, as seen by the recent involvement by the federal government, there are increasing chances that the facility will not be able to operate on Chicago’s South side and have to relocate somewhere less burdened by existing pollution.

[1] Michael Hawthorne, General Iron closes North Side facility; shredder awaits final permit to start operations on the Southeast Side, Chicago Tribune (Jan. 4, 2021),, (Last Visited Feb. 6, 2021).

[2] Michael Hawthorne, Pritzker, IEPA approved move of scrap shredder to predominantly Latino neighborhood, Chicago Tribune (June 25, 2020),, (Last Visited Feb. 6, 2021).

[3] Gina Ramirez, Don’t Bring General Iron’s Mess Down to the Southeast Side, NRDC (June 9, 2020),, (Last Visited Feb. 6, 2021).

[4] Illinois EPA Issues Construction Permit to General III, LLC, Illinois EPA (June 25, 2020),, (Last Visited Feb. 6, 2021).

[5] Id.

[6]  RMG Expansion on Southeast Side, City of Chicago,, (Last Visited Feb. 6, 2021).

[7] Chicago, Illinois, Municipal Code § 11.4.640

[8] Brett Chase, Lightfoot administration asks EPA for guidance on metal-shredder permit, Chicago Sun-Times (Feb. 18, 2021), (Last Visited, Feb. 24, 2021).

[9] Id.

[10] Mayor Lightfoot Introduces Ordinance to Increase Fines on Air Pollution to Further Protect Chicago’s Residents, City of Chicago (Dec. 16, 2020), (Last Visited Feb. 10, 2021).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Particulate Matter (PM) Basics, U.S. EPA, (Last Visited Feb. 6, 2021).

[14] Id.

[15] Particulate Matter Emissions, U.S. EPA,, (Last Visited, Feb. 6. 2021).

[16] Environmental Justice in Chicago: It’s Been One Battle After Another, NRDC (Oct. 20, 2020), (Last Visited, Feb. 24, 2021).

[17] Id.

[18] COVID Amplifies Environmental Injustice in Chicago, Climate Nexus (Feb. 2, 2021), (Last Visited Feb. 24 2021).

[19] Chicago Health Atlas, (Last Visited Feb. 6, 2021).

[20] Brett Chase, Environmental Racism complaint against Chicago referred to U.S. prosecutors, Chicago Sun-Times (Jan. 29, 2021), (Last Visited Feb. 24, 2021).

[21] Michael Hawthorne, Feds investigating Pritzker EPA for approving new scrap shredder on Chicago’s heavily polluted Southeast Side, Chicago Tribune (Jan. 26, 2021), (Last Visited Feb. 24, 2021).