Does a “Good Neighbor” put poison in our air?

Sims Metal is putting unknown quantities of toxic materials in the air of Pilsen.

Sims Metal recently sent fancy mailings to everyone in Pilsen claiming to have been a good neighbor for 30 years. However, there are facts that put this claim in doubt.

Sims metal buys scrap metal and shreds it into tiny pieces. This process inevitably puts tiny particles of metals into the air. As of now there is no good data on how much or what types of particles it is emitting. In 2019 Sims did a test which turned out to catch only about half the rate of their real emissions. But even this test showed that they were emitting more than the metal shredder that was forced to shut down in Lincoln Park. Now the EPA has installed some more monitors around the facility, but they are not sensitive enough to record the actual amounts of metal particles the Sims is emitting.

Given the variety of materials that Sims shreds it is inevitable that some amount of lead, manganese, magnesium and other heavy metals get into the air. We just don’t know what quantity. But, there is no safe level of lead or these other metals. Any quantity is going to cause some negative health effects in a certain percentage of the population. 

Winds in Pilsen can blow in any direction, but the prevailing wind comes from the southwest. This means that a lot of the material that Sims puts into the air blows in the direction of Benito Juarez high school. Some of it blows in the direction of Whitier elementary school. 

Sims is adding to the environmental hazards that exist in Pilsen. We just don’t know how much.

What should be done?

Given the high levels of pollution to which Pilsen has been subjected, many people feel that any additional pollution burden is unacceptable and Sims should just stop shredding metal at its facility.

At a minimum the community needs to know the actual amounts of heavy metals and volatile organic compounds that Sims is currently emitting. The sensors that are installed at Sims are not adequate for this job and need to be replaced with more sensitive monitors.

Then, at the very least, Sims needs to install proper enclosures and air filtering equipment to reduce the toxic materials it is putting into the air to the lowest level technically possible.

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