Chicago’s Southeast Side has struggled with pollution and a score of other environmental issues for decades. It’s long been a center of manufacturing and, subsequently, a dumping ground for many industries.
Since the late 1980s, residents from Hegewisch, the East Side and nearby neighborhoods have organized as part of the Southeast Environmental Task Force to push for better environmental conditions and air quality.
In recent years, they’ve fought against the use of toxic chemicals in the area, like petcoke, manganese and lead. Now, some members say the legacy of pollution in the area could leave residents more exposed to the coronavirus.
“We have a lot of people in the community with respiratory issues, asthma, other pulmonary disease, allergies — the pollution has a lot to do with it. So you could say we’re more susceptible [to COVID-19],” said Marcie Pedraza, who works with the organization.
The group is also speaking out against the arrival of General Iron in the area, a scrap metal recycling company slated to move later this year near 116th Street and Burley Avenue along the Calumet River.
Residents and politicians have tried to shut down the company at its current location in Lincoln Park for years, complaining about air pollution from dust and particulate matter expelled by the facility.
The company’s new site on the South Side will be set back from the road, and management says all metal shredding will be done indoors.
But Pedraza and other activists want the company to stay out of the Southeast Side completely.
“Well obviously we don’t want the pollution to come over here either. We’re constantly being dumped on [by] the surrounding polluters. This will just add more to that,” Pedraza said. “With the pandemic that’s going on, there’s no way for us to engage our officials … I think that project shouldn’t be happening right now anyway.”
Note: This story will be updated with video.