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The [Monday] Papers

"For more than 100 years, my family's business, General Iron Industries, has provided a vital service: We process and recycle the Chicago area's discarded metal products, including demolition debris, vehicles and kitchen appliances. While the need for our recycling service has grown, our neighborhood along the North Branch of the Chicago River has changed dramatically," one of GII's owners, Adam Labkon, writes in a Tribune Op-Ed headlined "Polluter Or Good Neighbor? Setting The Record Straight."

What record is he setting straight, exactly? At least in part, the record reported by the Tribune's own environment reporter, Michael Hawthorne, as well as that of the paper's editorial board. In other words, the paper itself!

"Unfortunately, some have branded us with a scarlet 'P' for polluter, and questioned the motives of aldermen who recently defeated an order ostensibly to restrict our hours, but which effectively would have crippled our operations," Labkon writes in a persuasive piece - to anyone not familiar with the record in question.

"In the cynical view of such critics, aldermen who acknowledged the necessity of our business and our tenure in the neighborhood were deemed compromised, while the lone alderman who moved to effectively shut us down had only altruistic motives. This conclusion is both wrongheaded and dangerous because it lacks a thoughtful examination of the facts, starting with the record before a City Council committee and the entire council."

A thoughtful examination of the facts? How about these - missing from Labkon's piece:

* "Federal authorities cracked down Friday on a controversial scrap shredder along the North Branch of the Chicago River, the latest in a series of legal actions prompted by complaints about clouds of metallic pollution drifting into the Bucktown and Lincoln Park neighborhoods," Hawthorne reported in July.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Chicago cited General Iron Industries with multiple violations of the Clean Air Act after inspectors found the scrap yard had failed to contain lung-damaging particulate matter within the company's property. The agency also accused General Iron of violating the law by failing to reduce emissions of noxious chemicals and heavy metals linked to birth defects and cancer, including lead, mercury and zinc.

"General Iron has been on the EPA's watchlist of chronic polluters since at least the late 1990s. But the agency didn't step in this time until Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, revealed last year that University of Illinois at Chicago researchers had found alarming levels of particulate matter downwind from the facility. The independent monitoring, commissioned by a neighbor fed up with smoke and noise from the facility's two massive shredders, prompted the EPA to order its own set of tests, which General Iron conducted in May under agency supervision."

* "Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration and a group of aldermen vigorously defended a clout-heavy scrap yard on Tuesday, brushing aside neighbors who shared stories about noxious pollution and loud noises from one of the last industrial operations in a fast-gentrifying corridor along the North Branch of the Chicago River," Hawthorne reported in mid-September.

"[Ald. George] Cardenas and other aldermen offered decidedly more positive stories about General Iron. Emanuel administration officials testified that dozens of city inspections haven't found anything wrong at the scrap yard and questioned whether Hopkins' measure would hold up in court.

"We don't want to be counterproductive to business in the city," Cardenas said. "We need to be more compassionate to these industries."

"The Labkons also have spread more than $500,000 in political contributions among local politicians during the past seven years, according to campaign finance records.

"Burnett got $16,000. Other recipients included Emanuel, $51,500; Tunney, $39,750; and Cardenas, $15,000.

"A dozen City Hall lobbyists have been on the family's payroll in recent years, including John Borovicka, who worked for Emanuel when the mayor was a congressman; Victor Reyes, a former political operative for Mayor Richard M. Daley; and John R. Daley, son of Cook County Commissioner John Daley and the former mayor's nephew."

* "Since the late 1990s, it's been on the Environmental Protection Agency's watchlist of chronic polluters. General Iron has been the subject of EPA crackdowns three times in the last decade and a half. The latest came in July, when the agency cited General Iron for failing to contain lung-damaging particulate matter within the company's property. The EPA also accused the company of failing to reduce emissions of chemicals and heavy metals linked to birth defects and cancer," the Tribune wrote in a September editorial headlined "The Tale Of Lincoln Park's Misunderstood' Scrap Yard."

"All of that has made living near General Iron a noxious nightmare. Georgia Nicholson, who lives across the street from the scrap yard, says she washes metallic particles off her patio several times each day, the Tribune's Michael Hawthorne reports. In years past, other neighbors have complained about the noise, the fumes, 'the oily film that they find on their cars, on their sidewalks, on the wading pools,' says Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, whose ward includes the site . . .

"How could we even think that ulterior motives explain why aldermen would passionately back up a scrap yard with a history of pollution violations?

"Hopkins' request was soundly defeated. It's heartening to see aldermen so vociferously defend what they describe as a misunderstood scrap business. We wonder, though, if those same aldermen would be as enthusiastic if they were the ones sweeping metallic dust off their patios."


Obviously Labkon deserves every opportunity to defend his family's business. I'm sure Hawthorne would be willing - if not eager - to sit down with him and discuss the issue at length. What Labkon doesn't deserve is the opportunity to present an unvetted Op-Ed purportedly "setting the record" of the newspaper (and neighbors and the EPA) "straight" in a fact-free manner, opinion piece or not. The result is a disservice to readers, who come away deceived, not to mention a reporter whose work is undermined.

Adam Labkon is Today's Worst Person In Chicago, but whoever at the Tribune allowed his piece to be published is Today's Worst Enabler.


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