Home » Pilsen Community Fights Against Last Remaining Metal Scrap Plant

Pilsen Community Fights Against Last Remaining Metal Scrap Plant

Courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil (Flickr CC0)

The scrap metal yard on the lower West Side, Sims Metal Management, has been around Chicago for a long time. They are located at 2500 South Paulina Street within the Pilsen neighborhood alongside many schools and homes.

What Is Sims Metal Management Plant

Sim takes all types of large metal scraps and shreds and transports them. They release tons of chemicals and contaminants into the air every single year. There are supposed to be rules and regulations preventing the pollution that these companies are producing, yet why are none of them being enforced?

Sims is similar to General Iron, another metal scrapping plant known for its mass amount of air pollution. They had recently been the center of attention when they tried to move its plant into the East Side community which is majority Latino and was met with lots of opposition and activism.

Back in 2018, Sims had a federal environmental case that they settled for $250,000 and even more recently they are facing a lawsuit for their carelessness regarding the pollution they produce. It is estimated that they release 25 tons of chemicals into the air each year. Now with the denial of General Iron’s relocation, Sims is the only large metal scrap plant left in Chicago.


This has deeply impacted the Pilsen community in both physical and mental ways. Many residents have been concerned about the intense amount of pollution this plant is accountable for.

A long-time resident and father, Troy Hernandez, has expressed his worries about the toxic pollution from the plant blowing into their neighborhood.

Courtesy of Duncan Cumming (Flickr CC0)

Sims has recently tried to apply for a new permit, a permit established to address the pollution created by large metal scrapping companies like Sims. Many have questioned this decision though including Donald Wink, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Wink has stated that the city needs to postpone its decision on giving them their permit until they can answer any emissions questions from the plant. He is also concerned about the Pilsen community with potential lead releases within the neighborhood because of the plant.

Sims has exposed Pilsen to such high levels of lead, which is an extremely harmful metal. Due to this high concern of extreme lead levels, they installed an air sensor at a local school. Although the levels have been declining, Wink states that they are increasing recently.

In other nearby schools in Pilsen, levels of chromium and manganese were found to be high. Local residents wonder how the plant remains open with all the health concerns.

Current Activism

Many have been trying to shut down this plant dating back to the beginning of this year. Mary Gonzales, an 81-year-old woman, has been taking action against the Sims plant. Last spring she asked each member of a group of elected officials the same question. “Will you, within your authority, act to reduce air pollution in the next two years?”

Each of the members said yes. Now Gonzales plans to continue her case and discuss shutting down the nearby metal scrap plant this Thursday night. This discussion is going to be held at St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

Gonzales is not alone in her mission and is working with her sister, Theresa McNamara, along with other community members. Gonzales runs a social justice committee at St. Paul’s church and they have been contributing to this coalition. They have created a group of more than 6000 members, including those of St. Paul’s church, and many Pilsen residents.

The sisters have stated that they are greatly inspired by their mother who was a Pilsen activist as well. Through community activism, residents of the Pilsen neighborhood plan to achieve environmental justice and have been reaching out to higher power to get rid of the shredding plant.

Written by Alyssa Calderon


Chicago Sun-Times: Pilsen metal shredder could become next big environmental battle in Chicago

Streets Blog Chicago: General Iron’s relocation to the Southeast Side is a mobility justice issue

Chicago Sun-Times: In Pilsen, community effort builds to close Chicago’s last big scrap-metal shredder

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of Duncan Cumming Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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