There are fires at metal shredding facilities around the country at a rate of at least one a month. Here is another example of the dangers of this industry…
EPA cracks down on Redwood City company polluting San Francisco Bay
By Paul Rogers
A Bay Area metals recycling company that drew widespread attention — and a fine — for a fire that sent a huge plume of black, acrid smoke into the air over Silicon Valley five years ago is facing new pollution charges from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA said Monday that it has issued a notice of violation to Sims Metal Management, located at the Port of Redwood City, for polluting San Francisco Bay with lead, mercury, PCBs, copper and zinc. Under the Clean Water Act, Sims could face fines up to $37,500 a day unless it cleans up.
At its 13-acre bay front site in Redwood City, Sims shreds roughly 300,000 automobiles a year, along with appliances and other metal products, and loads the materials via huge conveyor belts onto ships bound for China, Korea and other countries, where they are made into new products.
During inspections last March and in August, EPA officials found high levels of toxic pollutants believed to come from the shredded metal products in the soils and sediment where the facility meets Redwood Creek, a wide body of water that flows into San Francisco Bay. Mercury levels were 110 times the federal government’s protective levels; lead was five times over the levels and copper was 86 times. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a carcinogenic chemical banned in 1979 and commonly found in older cars and industrial equipment, were found to be at levels 10,000 times the federal government’s acceptable levels for soil.
Federal officials said the pollution at such levels poses a risk to fish, birds and other species in San Francisco Bay.
“The bay has been subjected to a history of pollution, and we are doing our best to clean it up,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator in San Francisco.
“New discharges are unacceptable. Where there are violations of the Clean Water Act, we take them very seriously.”
The EPA required Sims to develop a plan within 90 days to eliminate the discharges.
Daniel Strechay, a spokesman for Sims, which is based in New York City and bills itself as the largest metal recycling company in the world, said that Sims already is working with EPA to remedy the problem.
“The company anticipates that this matter can be resolved to EPA’s full satisfaction, and it intends to continue cooperating fully with EPA,” Strechay said in a statement. “Sims is committed to protection and promotion of a healthy environment and to worker health and safety at all of its facilities.”
Environmentalists were wary.
“We’re very concerned about industrial pollutants being released into the bay,” said Amy Ricard, a spokeswoman for Save the Bay. “We welcome the EPA and other state and federal agencies cracking down on industrial polluters and keeping this pollution from entering the bay.”
The EPA enforcement is not the first time that Sims has run afoul of pollution laws.
In April 2007, a fire at the same facility in Redwood City sent a huge cloud of inky black smoke over the Peninsula. As complaints poured in about breathing problems and stinging eyes, health officials warned tens of thousands of residents in Redwood City, Palo Alto and other communities to stay indoors while more than 60 firefighters battled the blaze.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District fined Sims $20,000 in November 2007 in connection with the fire.
The most recent pollution may have come from shredded auto debris falling off a huge conveyor belt that loads such material onto ships, the EPA’s Blumenfeld said.
“We’re not sure how it got there,” he said. “But we know it did get there. In order to comply with the law, they are going to have to make some significant changes to their operations.”
Another federal agency also is warning Sims about the pollution. On Dec. 15, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent Sims a letter stating that fibrous residue from the auto shredding that “may contain plastics, rubber foam, residual metal pieces,” and other waste is regularly blowing, or being washed, 800 feet across the water from the Sims site and is contaminating Bair Island. Bair is part of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
The pollution has contaminated a 140-acre property that was being transferred to the wildlife refuge from the nearby Pacific Shores development, slowing the land transaction, said Mendel Stewart, manager of the refuge complex. In an interview, Stewart said employees of Cargill Salt, which owns an adjacent property, complained to his agency that large amounts of fluffy gray material are blowing from the site onto Cargill’s property. The same material is blowing in the water, Stewart said, and onto the wildlife refuge that contains endangered species. He said no dead fish or birds had been observed in the area, but because of the toxic metals involved, he wants the pollution stopped.
The Port of Redwood City, a deepwater channel visited by cargo ships and barges, dates back to the 1850s, when lumber companies shipped redwood logs dragged by teams of oxen from the Peninsula hills and Santa Cruz Mountains out on schooners to San Francisco. In 1936, voters approved a bond to construct modern wharves, docks, deep channels and railway lines. Today, in addition to Sims, the port is home to a number of other bulk commodity companies, including Cemex, a cement producer, Pabco Gypsum, and Hanson Aggregates, formerly Kaiser Cement.