No one wants to talk about Pilsen's existing metal shredder

For more than a year there has been a fight over the idea of bringing a metal shredder to Pilsen. Some groups say it’s a great source of jobs and other groups have said it’s a dangerous source of pollution. Now that it’s election season everyone is required to take a position on it. Curiously, neither of the most vocal groups have taken a firm stance on the fact that there is an existing metal shredder in the neighborhood. I’m in the privileged position of having been attacked by both groups on the issue. The reason I’ve been attacked from both sides is closely related to the reason no one talks about the existing metal shredder; a strong position against the industry in general is bad for both groups.

The group in favor of the metal shredder (Familia Latina Unida Ministries) has apparent political ties to the current alderman, Danny Solis, who has endorsed the shredder while accepting money from the owners of the proposed metal shredder. The most vocal group against the metal shredder (Pilsen Alliance) has taken money from the existing metal shredder according to what an employee of theirs told me, according to their opposition, according to what an employee of PERRO has told me, and is implicitly confirmed by their board member and 25th ward aldermanic candidate Byron Sigcho taking credit for a lawsuit filed by the lawyer for the existing SIMS metal shredder.

Good neighborhood, bad industry

Over a year ago I was asked by Pilsen Alliance to investigate the health effects of the proposed metal shredder because I have a PhD in statistics and the technical skills to find and work through the difficult technical material in the only study on the issue. Over the course of several months I found that shredders were not suitable near residential areas. When I pointed out that there was an existing shredder in the neighborhood, SIMS Metal Management, they asked me to be quiet about it. I did not comply. The study from the Houston group suggested that small to midsize metal shredders were dangerous because the torch cutting required to break cars into pieces suitable for their shredders created hexavalent chromium; an especially carcinogenic compound.

The proposed metal shredder claimed that they would not have these carcinogenic effects because they would not use “heat” (presumably torch cutting) to cut the cars into small pieces because their shredder would be large enough to consume entire vehicles. The experience of Elkhart, Indiana, hosted multiple times by the PERRO organization, suggested that the explosions caused by shredding non-empty gas tanks in the vehicles would create a nuisance and a safety hazard. Additionally, there have been no studies on the environmental effects of mega shredders.

The volume of pollution created by any metal shredder, small or large, is not high enough to trigger EPA oversight even though the toxicity appears to be comparable to larger volumes of less toxic industrial pollution. In layman’s terms, coal plants are like smoking cigarettes while metal shredders are like smoking crack. A pack of cigarettes has a large volume of mildly toxic material while a crack rock has a small volume of highly toxic material (or something like that, I’m not familiar with crack). Using this analogy, the EPA doesn’t care what you smoke until you smoke a whole pack of cigarettes or a whole bag of crack.(?)

Mum’s the word

So why doesn’t anyone talk about the SIMS shredder? It’s kitty-corner from the school and almost equidistant to the school relative to the proposed metal shredder. The primary danger of the SIMS facility is likely the hexavalent chromium it produces while the danger of the new shredder is likely the explosions from shredding entire cars. To answer the question put yourself in the shoes of the two companies (and their respective proponents).

Windrose of pollution applied to the existing SIMS Metal Shredder. Notice that it is kitty-corner to Juarez High School

If you’re the SIMS company/Pilsen Alliance/Byron Sigcho, you obviously don’t want competition in the neighborhood and you don’t want anyone to notice you. That’s the easy one.

Windrose of pollution applied to the Pure Metals shredder. Notice that it is across the street from Juarez High School.

If you’re the Pure Metals company/Familia Latina Unida/Danny Solis, it’s difficult and subtle to say one shredder is bad and another is good so it’s best to say nothing.

Windrose of pollution applied to both shredders.

All you’re left with is me and the small underfunded voice of PERRO saying both are potentially dangerous, because that’s how politics works. Small concentrated interests will fund their voices (SIMS/Pure Metals -> Pilsen Alliance/Familia Latina Unida), while large dispersed interests (Pilsen and especially Juarez High School) remain unfunded and quiet.

As I stated when I attempted to get on the ballot for 25th ward alderman, our democracy has been hacked. To channel George Carlin, “forget the politicians… they don’t care about you.”