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EPA gives all clear to scrap metal company in Pilsen; some are not pleased

By MARYBEL GONZALEZ

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    CHICAGO (WBBM) — A metal recycling company in Pilsen that had been ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to monitor their levels of pollutants is now getting a stamp of approval.

In a new report, the federal agency found that Sims Metal Management, a scrap metal shredding company at 2500 S. Paulina St., seems to have addressed their concerns. But as CBS 2’s Marybel González reported Friday night, some critics do not agree.

At least one expert is calling the report “lacking.” He, along with other community activists we spoke with, said more needs to be done before they can confidently say the metal plant places no risk to those living in the community.

In its recently-released report, the EPA said Sims Metal Management does not pose health risks to the surrounding community – at least not in the short term.

The analysis came after years of backlash from some residents – who as recently as September have met to say they want the company out of their community.

“I want them gone,” Pilsen resident Ana Gonzalez said in September.

It also comes after the federal agency requested back in April that the metal scrapping company install air monitors to track any metals or other harmful air pollutants.

Using data submitted from Sims Metal, the EPA found:

No detectable levels – or “ND” – of lead concentrations in the air samples. Levels of volatile organic material that are below any that would cause human health effects from short-term exposure. However, some like Donald Wink – a chemistry professor who has been working with community activists to analyze the monitoring data, say this is not enough to determine if the metal plant’s emissions are safe.

“We don’t know what ‘ND’ means,” said Wink, of the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It could be 10 nanograms per cubic meter. It could be 50. It could mean 70.”

Wink said they need the actual numbers of possible pollutants, and to track them for a longer period of time.

He is also concerned there are other metals not detected that could be dangerous.

“It doesn’t mean that they’re not there, and it doesn’t mean that they’re at a level which is of concern,” Wink said. “What is the level that we might want to look at, even if there’ not an official U.S. EPA level?”

In its December report, the EPA said they will continue air monitoring to determine any long-term risks.

In a statement sent to us, Sims Metal Management said, “We are pleased that these initial air monitoring findings uphold our pledge to be a responsible neighbor in Pilsen.” The shredding company said it also still plans on investing $15 million in emission controls, as it had previously pledged to do.

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