U.S. EPA Requires Cleanup, Fines Metal Recycler for Polluting San Francisco Bay
Redwood City recycler contaminated Bay waters with toxic mercury, lead, zinc and PCBs
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice have fined Sims Metal Management $189,500 for polluting San Francisco Bay with scrap metal debris in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. Since at least the early 1990s, Sims operated a conveyor belt without adequate pollution controls to prevent materials from falling off the conveyor and into the Bay.
“More than 40 years after Congress passed the Clean Water Act, it is appalling that companies continue to pollute San Francisco Bay,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Taking strong enforcement action against polluters like Sims Metal is needed if we are to once and for all end illegal dumping into the fragile Bay ecosystem.”
Sims processes and exports more than 300,000 tons of scrap metals from over 200,000 recycled vehicles and other equipment each year to China and other global destinations out of its Port of Redwood City facility. During a stormwater permit inspection in 2011, EPA discovered evidence of scrap metal pollution into the Bay from the company’s conveyor belt. At the time, Sims had no protective covering on the conveyor moving scrap metals from its shredder and onto ships, so the metal dust blew off the top and fell off the sides of the belt and into the Bay. EPA tested the shoreline near the conveyor and found high levels of toxic metals including mercury, lead, copper, zinc and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
In 2011, EPA ordered Sims to clean up the shoreline, enclose its conveyor, and make other fixes to prevent future discharges to the Bay. In addition to paying a fine for those violations, today’s settlement requires Sims to investigate and clean up its pollution in the Bay, which will likely cost the company several hundred thousand dollars. Sims will conduct a sediment study to determine the extent of contamination in the Bay from its conveyor operations. If the study shows that its ship-loading operations polluted the Bay, Sims will have to clean up the contamination.
San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the Pacific coast hosting millions of migratory birds and supporting commerce and recreation for more than seven million Bay Area residents. The Bay is also heavily burdened by many sources of pollution that threaten the Bay’s marine life, including toxic metals and chemicals from industrial facilities.
EPA works to protect and restore the Bay through Clean Water Act enforcement and other programs including the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund. Since 2008, the fund has invested over $32 million in grants to reduce polluted runoff to the Bay and restore Bay wetlands.
The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.