metal shredding recycling
The U.S. EPA says concerns about volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other emissions are prompting their scrutiny of shredding plants.
Photo by Recycling Today staff.

Shredder emissions targeted by EPA

Agency issues alert urging shredder operators to “contact their local regulatory or permitting authority for further guidance.”

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August 4, 2021

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an “Enforcement Alert” that verifies what some auto shredder operators have been concerned about for more than a year: the EPA is targeting their facilities for air quality reasons.

The July 2021 three-page document states in part that “EPA and state investigations have identified Clean Air Act violations at metal recycling facilities that operate auto and scrap metal shredders, causing excess emissions of air pollution.”

Continues the agency, “Shredder operators should be aware of the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other emissions from their facilities and should contact their local regulatory or permitting authority for further guidance.”

At a May 2020 State of the Industry roundtable conversation, Kevin Gershowitz of Medford, New York based Gershow Recycling commented on his company’s having been has been selected by the EPA for emissions testing on its shredders.

Stated Gershowitz more than a year ago, “The big kick now with [the] EPA on a nationwide basis is volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted at shredders. Basically, as you shred the car, there’s some residual oil left in the engine; it goes into the shredder, and the shredder doesn’t get hot enough to actually burn it and destroy it, but it gets hot enough to create fumes. And the fumes get hot enough to become VOCs that go in the atmosphere.”

Several hundred miles west in Chicago, Ohio-based Reserve Management Group (RMG) has been unable to open its new shredding plant in the Second City because of the refusal of Chicago’s city government to issue final permits. This despite the existence of a finalized and signed agreement between RMG and the current mayoral administration, which has triggered a $100 million lawsuit.

It is unclear whether the new Enforcement Alert will add any clarity for shredding plant operators. The threats initially are spelled out more clearly than the path forward, with the EPA writing that plants with emissions levels found to be above its thresholds “may be required to install add-on controls, pay civil penalties, and take other measures.”

In sections titled “Air pollution control strategies,” “Depolluting to prevent pollution,” and “Recommended actions,” the EPA lists “permanent total enclosures,” venturi scrubbers and regenerative thermal oxidizers as potential technical solutions. The agency also recommends “removal and recovery or proper disposal of scrap metal shredding operation that uses a fluids and certain materials prior to shredding (depolluting).”

In the alert’s final section on recommendations for plant operators, the EPA lists three steps: 1) “depolluting” scrap materials before they enter the shredder; 2) estimating or measuring VOC emissions; and 3) contacting the EPA or a state agency afterward.

In early August, the Houston-based law firm of Vinson & Elkins LLP followed up on the EPA alert by advising its clients in part, “Shredding facilities should take steps now to confirm that their emission levels do not exceed regulatory thresholds. Shredding facilities should also evaluate whether they wish to take advantage of EPA’s Audit Policy, which can offer substantial penalty reduction benefits for self-disclosed violations.”

Members and staff of the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) will remain attentive to the issue, according to ISRI President Robin K. Wiener. 

“This is a critical issue that ISRI is working with our Shredders Committee to address on behalf of all of our members that operate shredders throughout the country," says Wiener. "During last month’s governance meetings held in D.C., the ISRI board authorized funding specifically for this issue, allowing ISRI to develop a compliance framework and provide assistance for its members.”

 A full copy of the EPA Enforcement Alert can be viewed on this web page.