The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), Sacramento, has announced a $4.1 million settlement with Schnitzer Steel over allegations that the Portland, Oregon-based company’s metal shredding facility in West Oakland, California, violated the state’s environmental laws.
According to a press release from DTSC, the department along with the California attorney general and the Alameda County district attorney investigated the facility over allegations that the company releases toxic pollution into the air and waterways surrounding a West Oakland neighborhood designated as a disadvantaged community by the California Environmental Protection Agency. DTSC says investigators and scientists collected samples of light fibrous material (LFM) exceeding regulatory limits for lead, copper and zinc from businesses, health offices, the Oakland Estuary and other areas within one-half mile of the Schnitzer Steel location on Embarcadero West.
According to a statement from Schnitzer Steel, the company has been working with state and local officials to address their concerns and to settle this matter. However, the company says, state health experts have indicated that LFMs do not pose a human health hazard and there has been no evidence that emissions from the Oakland facility pose a risk to public health and welfare.
“Most recent studies of the Oakland facility by the Bay Area Quality Management District demonstrate emissions are below regulatory risk thresholds established by the district. Contrary to the attorney general’s press release, Schnitzer’s Oakland facility does not emit harmful levels of toxic air contaminants, and we dispute the matters alleged in the complaint,” Schnitzer Steel states.
The company adds that its “commitment to sustainable operations is evidenced” by its $40 million in investments since 2012 to environmental projects at the Oakland facility and more than $20 million in additional investments planned in 2021 and 2022.
As a result of the settlement, DTSC reports that Schnitzer Steel will be required to pay about $1.5 million for civil penalties, including $892,900 to DTSC and $554,000 to reimburse the investigative and enforcement costs. Schnitzer Steel also will fund two environmental projects—nearly $1.9 million for the installation and maintenance of air filtration systems through a partnership with the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and $94,000 for a mobile pediatric asthma clinic by the Prescott-Joseph Center.
“In full cooperation with the state and Alameda County, Schnitzer Steel worked to ensure that half of the settlement will be directed to supplemental environmental projects to protect and enhance the public health and the environment in our local community,” Schnitzer says. “Schnitzer has implemented major improvements at its facility over the last several years to eliminate the release of LFM from its operations. Additionally, we proactively initiated a dialogue with regulators and cooperated to address their concerns as soon as the LFM issue was brought to our attention. In addition to installing industry-leading enclosures and control systems, we established rigorous inspection processes as well as ongoing cleanup of neighboring properties.
"Metal recycling is key to a sustainable future, and our site plays a critical role in California’s recycling ecosystem," the company adds. "We are committed to leading the industry in sustainability practices and will continue to innovate and employ the most effective safety and environmental technologies available.”