Sims air pollution tests could be botched, EPA says

Pilsen residents who want to learn more about toxic pollution from a nearby scrap metal crushing operation will have to wait until government-mandated air monitors apparently aren’t working properly.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Sims Metal Management to install high-quality air monitors, including at three locations closest to homes and schools, to determine if the scrapyard can release harmful levels of toxic metals and other pollutants.

Sims shreds and recycles cars, appliances and other large pieces of junk at 2500 S. Paulina St. along the Chicago River near several schools and hundreds of homes. Residents complain of odors and pollution from the site, and a number of community members are trying to shut down the business.

Although the air tests are attracting interest from the Pilsen community, the readings of hazardous metals, including lead, mercury, chromium and cadmium, are unreliable, the EPA said. And the data is also potentially flawed for large particle pollution.

“The EPA is concerned that the monitoring equipment did not perform as intended,” the agency said on its website. “Specifically, the EPA is concerned that the monitoring equipment sucked in too much or too little air, which could invalidate the results.”

However, three days of results for pollutants known as volatile organic compounds were analyzed, and the EPA said it does not believe there were any “short-term” health effects from these. shows at Sims. However, there was “not enough data” to determine long-term effects.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency was working with the company to triage the findings. Further tests are planned. A Sims spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

Sims, who has broken pollution laws, is seeking new business permits from the state and city.

The incident puts the city’s permitting process on hold as officials say they want to see EPA data before proceeding with public hearings for Sims’ permit.

At least one militant in Pilsen is worried about an interminable fight like the one over General Iron’s proposed move to the southeast side. After years of community protests, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration denied the company a license to operate this year.

“It’s out of control,” said Troy Hernandez, a volunteer with the community group Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization. “It’s frustrating because we just went through the same thing on the southeast side.”

Sims was sued by the state last year for allegedly failing to show it contained pollution. The EPA is trying to determine if the facility violates federal clean air law.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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