To the Editor:
As medical students at the University of Chicago, we are committed to promoting the health of communities on the South Side. Our training and interactions with patients have taught us that an individual’s health is largely impacted by the social and structural determinants of health in their community. Today, one determinant is on the minds of many Chicagoans: environmental racism. In our view, permitting the construction of General Iron’s new facility on the Southeast Side is an act of environmental racism that would harm the health and well-being of this community. As such, we are deeply opposed to the construction of General Iron in the neighborhood of East Side and urge the city government to deny the Reserve Management Group’s (RMG) permit for relocation.
The Southeast Side has a long history of environmental pollution. Serving as Chicago’s primary industrial corridor for decades has left this community disproportionately burdened by toxic pollution in the form of particulate matter, lead, manganese, and arsenic. Taking residence in the air, water, and soil, these substances have a demonstrably negative effect on human health. For instance, exposure to the particulate matter emitted by metal recyclers like General Iron has been linked to many illnesses, including heart attacks, respiratory problems, and aggravated asthma. What’s worse, particulate matter exposure has its most harmful effects on children and people who already have heart and lung disease – both of which have heightened representation on the Southeast Side. In this way, the relocation of General Iron to East Side will not only worsen the health of people of color who are already ill but threaten the health of generations to come.
Our resistance to General Iron’s relocation is about much more than the negative effects of pollution on human health. It is about equity. In addition to its high pollution levels, East Side experiences more economic hardship, food insecurity, barriers to healthcare, and lower life expectancies than most of our city, including Lincoln Park: the predominantly wealthy and white neighborhood that General Iron was kicked out of last year. In this way, permitting the relocation of General Iron from one of Chicago’s most privileged neighborhoods to one of its least would be a blatant health injustice and would worsen the racial, socioeconomic, and geographic health disparities that already define our city.
For the health and well-being of the Southeast Side, we are compelled to voice our staunch opposition to the construction of a new metal shredder in this community. We believe that all Chicagoans deserve to breathe clean air and live in communities that promote, rather than harm, their health. As residents of Hyde Park, each of us has a duty to stand in solidarity with our neighbors and advocate for the city government to deny RMG’s final permit.
There are many ways to advocate for the health of the Southeast Side. You can encourage the city government of Chicago to reject RMG’s relocation permit by reaching out to the Office of the Mayor over phone (311), e-mail (email@example.com), mail (121 North LaSalle Street, Chicago City Hall 4th Floor, Chicago, IL 60602), or through this feedback form (https://webapps1.chicago.gov/eforms/contactUsForm). You can also support the efforts of community activists by following them on social media (see their social media toolkit here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-EIakOYON9yUngm8dyCnYT4j7g7_Sv-dCDmAaVvZTHE/edit), attending activist-organized demonstrations, and signing this petition (https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/tell-mayor-lightfoot-and-dr-arwady-stop-general-iron-deny-the-permit?source=direct_link&).
Now is the time to make your voice heard. Our vision of a more equitable Chicago depends on it.