Chicago Department of Public Health Denies RMG/Southside Recycling Permit Application to Operate a Recycling Plant on the Southeast Side

February 18, 2022

 

CHICAGO – The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced today that it has denied RMG’s permit application to operate a scrap metal recycling facility on Chicago’s Southeast Side. CDPH found the potential adverse changes in air quality and quality of life that would be caused by operations, and health vulnerabilities in the surrounding communities - together with the company's track record in operating similar facilities within this campus - present an unacceptable risk. The announcement follows the third and final community engagement session held on Tuesday night as part of an eight-month Health Impact Assessment (HIA) that was recommended and guided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA).  

The HIA found that certain census block groups in the Southeast Side community rank among the highest in Chicago for vulnerability to air pollution, based on underlying health and social conditions. Further, the Southeast Side population has higher rates of chronic conditions such as coronary heart disease and COPD in adults than Chicago overall. The HIA also found that community conditions on the Southeast Side have been affected by the presence of past and current industry and that the proposed Southside Recycling facility would contribute additional negative impacts to the environment, health, and quality of life for area residents. 

CDPH regulations require that a company’s compliance history be considered as part of its review of any recycling permit application. Through the HIA process, CDPH officials discovered apparent instances of RMG’s non-compliance with City health and environmental regulations and existing requirements. This included failure to obtain necessary permits for foundry sand operations, as well as exceeding permitted capacity for other approved operations. In addition, the HIA assessment cited RMG’s lack of transparency and responsiveness, such as not reporting an April 2021 building collapse on the site and related failure to properly maintain asbestos-containing materials. 

“We are committed to protecting and enhancing the health, environment, and quality of life for all Chicagoans. In an already vulnerable community, the findings from the HIA combined with the inherent risks of recycling operations and concerns about the company’s past and potential noncompliance are too significant to ignore,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D.  

While RMG can continue to conduct the other appropriately permitted businesses on its site, the City’s permit denial means that RMG cannot operate the Southside Recycling facility. As with all permitted businesses, CDPH will continue to monitor RMG’s operations and ensure they are in compliance with existing permits.    

This HIA is the most rigorous and comprehensive study of a proposed industrial facility in Chicago to date. In this case, an HIA was necessary in part because of the size and nature of the proposed recycling facility, and the fact that public health considerations raised during the permitting process had not been fully addressed during zoning.  

Although this level of impact assessment would not be required for existing businesses, the City will continue to strengthen its regulations to protect the public from adverse impacts of industrial operations. Arwady emphasized the City’s recent transformational work to expand, enhance and enforce its regulations to promote health and racial equity alongside economic development. These include:   

  • A recent Air Quality Zoning ordinance that requires large industrial zoning applicants to submit an air quality impact study and get a written recommendation from CDPH and the City Department of Transportation as a condition for site plan approval. This has already addressed a gap in the zoning process that was highlighted through the RMG/Southside Recycling permit application review.  
  • Rules for large recyclers that impose extensive requirements for continuous air monitoring, dust and pollution controls, stormwater pollution prevention, and full enclosure of shredding and waste.   
  • Specific rules for control of emissions from handling and storing bulk materials and increased environmental fines to address violations of air pollution, fugitive dust and demolition ordinances.   

Later this year, CDPH plans to finalize new rules that require enhanced environmental controls for rock crushers. In addition to these important steps, the HIA includes recommendations to increase monitoring, enforcement and environmental protections for the Southeast Side; enhance the City's use of health and racial impact assessments, as well as ongoing community engagement; and embed cumulative impact principles in zoning, permitting and enforcement.   

“The larger picture here is making sure that our policies balance the City’s economic development interests with public health protections,” said Arwady. “Chicago has already taken important steps in this direction with the Air Quality Zoning ordinance. The HIA identifies other policy and process changes that we will work to advance with other public agencies, as well as industry and community partners.” 

The HIA summary report is available on the CDPH HIA website. By the end of February, it will be updated to include appendices and final data. A Spanish version of this release is also available on that web page.  

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