CHICAGO (CBS) — City officials have shut down the General Iron scrap yard in Lincoln Park, after two explosions rocked the recycling facility on Monday.
Buildings Commissioner Judith Frydland and Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II said they have determined the site “poses an immediate danger and constitutes an imminent threat to the public at large,” due to the unknown extent of the damage from the explosions at General Iron, along the Chicago River near Cortland and Kingsbury streets.
“The structural stability of the structures that were directly affected by the blasts is unknown. These conditions are hazardous to any occupant or emergency responder in an emergency situation. It has therefore been determined that the site poses an immediate danger and constitutes an imminent threat to the public at large,” city officials said in a statement.
Before the facility can reopen, the city will conduct a review of operations at General Iron to ensure proper safety measures are in place to prevent further explosions, and the company must submit a structural engineering report and architectural plans to obtain a new building permit.
While the company is allowed to “conduct routine maintenance” and “remove accumulated recycled materials from the site,” General Iron may not accept any new materials, and no one else may enter the facility except licensed contractors conducting inspections and repairs.
No injuries were reported in the explosion and fire, and General Iron officials said they are investigating the cause of the blast, “including potential sabotage.”
Shortly after the explosion, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) tweeted there was a “sudden increase in pollution readings” in the neighborhood, but Fire Department officials later said air quality tests on-site revealed “no apparent immediate health risk to residents and the surrounding community.”
Hopkins also said the facility should be closed permanently in the wake of the explosions.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident. An OSHA spokesperson said General Iron has been cited once in the past five years, for three “other-than-serious” safety violations (the lowest category) in October 2016. The company paid a penalty of $5,704 for violations of machine safety procedures.
For the past few months, community activists have been urging aldermen and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to permanently close the facility, saying it creates dangerous pollution.
During a virtual City Council meeting last month, a doctor who lives near the scrap metal recycling plant said it creates a “cloud of pungent odor” in the area, and said it’s “absurd” the city is allowing the facility to continue emitting pollution during a respiratory pandemic.
According to published reports, the Lightfoot administration ticketed the scrap yard five times in December and January for pollution issues. Each of the violations issued suggested pollution-control equipment required by the U.S. EPA failed to properly control harmful emissions from the facility.