Pilsen residents spoke out against a planned metal recycling plant at a community meeting organized by the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) on April 5.
The plant will be built at Cermak Road and Ashland Avenue, across from Benito Juarez Community Academy. Citing pollution concerns, members of PERRO gave presentations against the plan proposed by Pure Metal Recycling, despite the plant bringing about 90 jobs to the area.
“Metal shredders, in general, produce particulate pollution,” said Jerry Mead-Lucero, a member of PERRO. “This is fine particles that get into the lungs and cause respiratory problems, similar to what the power plants did.”
He was referring to the Fisk coal power plant, which PERRO worked to close. It was finally shuttered in 2013. The group also managed to clean up a brass smelter, H. Kramer, encouraging the company to put in about $3 million of pollution control equipment. PERRO was founded in 2004 as a group of Pilsen residents trying to fight pollution in their neighborhood, according to the organization’s website.
Metal recyclers do not have to follow many of the same safety rules that other types of metal industry does, according to Mead-Lucero.
“The industry standard at these types of plants is about one explosion per month, usually caused by materials such as car gas tanks and propane tanks, which should not be sent through a shredder,” he said.
Mead-Lucero said fires are also a common occurrence, as the fine particulate material is flammable.
“You think about the pros, and the company says we will get 90 more jobs in the community, and better competition among people who pick up recyclable metals,” said Troy Hernandez, a resident and speaker at the meeting. “The cons — you get safety concerns with the explosions and fires, competition against existing jobs.”
Recyclers also do not have environmental regulations that other types of industry have to meet. These facilities are not monitored by the EPA, according to Hernandez, because they do not create a large amount of air pollution.
Citing a study done in Houston that looked at recycling facility pollution, Hernandez said there could be an increase of between one and 730 cancer cases in Pilsen caused by the new plant, due to the particularly harmful nature of particulate metal.
Sara Walker, who has lived in Pilsen for two years, and is a member of two area organizations, said the neighborhood can create a demand to hold these new industries to their high environmental standards.
“I think [the pollution] is obviously a big concern, and I support all the investigation into what will happen to the people of Pilsen,” said Walker. “I believe those questions have been thoroughly addressed to the community several times, and compared to the industry that still remains in Pilsen, it is the first step into a different kind of industrial Pilsen.”
Comparing the Pure Metal plans to previous industry in the Pilsen area, Walker said the facility will control the pollution, and contribute much less pollution than previous industry like the Fisk power plant. She said the company will also replace jobs that were lost with the closing of those industries.
The area where the Pure Metal plant is being proposed is zoned for industry, Walker said, and keeping industrial jobs in the area is important to keeping the neighborhood working class. The jobs being created with the recycling plant are similar to those lost, which means 90 replacement jobs for the community, she said.
But other residents said they were unimpressed with the plan.
“There are certain industry that don’t belong in a residential area or near a school, and this is one of those examples,” said Mead-Lucero. “We really don’t think this is a good fit for the area.”