A map from the University of Illinois - Chicago study of the industry surrounding SIMS Metal Management shows its position relative to McKinley Park and nearby industrial sites.

Southwest Side Environment Team Study Parallels Renewal for Metal Shredder

Published April 25, 2022

The University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC)’s School of Public Health team tracking environmental issues on Chicago’s Southwest Side has issued its study of conditions around SIMS Metal Management, a metal shredder in the Pilsen neighborhood adjacent to the McKinley Park Community Area.

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The paper, “Environmental Justice Conditions of Communities Adjacent to a Proposed Facility in Southwest Chicago,” examines the cumulative environmental justice conditions surrounding the business at 2500 S. Paulina St., Chicago.

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The metal shredding firm is undergoing renewal of its state operating permit and faces scrutiny from the community, including at an upcoming meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, at St. Paul Catholic Church, 2127 W. 22nd Place, Chicago.

University Environment Team

The environmental justice study comes from the same team, headed by Professor Michael Cailas, that is focusing on issues of environmental justice across the Southwest Side. The SIMS study was requested by nearby community groups and 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Cailas said.

“The effect of the proposed facility ... can only be assessed using a cumulative impact assessment approach,” the study said. It tallies and displays other industrial sites near the SIMS location, as well as notes the team’s tracking of asphalt plants, rail hubs, brownfields and Toxic-Release Inventory (TRI) sites across the Southwest Side.

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“The environmental justice indicators from [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] reveal an area at the highest level of EJ charts, with indices reaching the top percentiles for specific hazards," the study stated about the area surrounding SIMS.

Meeting Compliance

Cailas emphasized that the study focused on the overall area near SIMS and not the facility itself. SIMS is located in a Planned Manufacturing District: an area the City of Chicago expressly sets aside for industry, allowing many uses "by right."

Cailas also noted how SIMS' status within current legal framework — including recent changes to operations and monitoring — means it is likely to get its permit reapproved.

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"Legally, there's nothing they can do," Cailas said. "They will be in full compliance. That's where the problem starts."

Concentration of Industry

In its conclusion, the UIC study cited a recent draft of the U.S. EPA Strategic Plan for 2022-2026 that touched on how industrial siting decisions are affected at federal, state and local levels. "It is often easier to site an eighth facility in a community that already has seven than in a community that has none," the plan said.

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"There are solutions," Cailas said. "We can ask the city to provide better controls." He noted how policy changes affecting all industry are more effective than protesting any single industrial site.

Recent media reports note how the U.S. EPA has recently ordered SIMS to install four regulatory-grade air monitors around their facility to accurately measure contaminates. SIMS has been working with the U.S. EPA Region 5 Office under a 2018 Consent Agreement and Final Order following alleged violations of air regulations in 2016.

A statewide environmental justice law introduced in 2021 would require more scrutiny of industry, greater fees, public health assessments and meetings, and other measures. However, this bill has failed to advance in the Illinois legislature and looks unlikely to be passed in the 2022 legislative session due to an impasse between environmental and business interests, according to media reports.

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