The EPA, or at least the regional administrator, says the bay has a legacy of pollution of going back to the gold mining days. The agency now plans to crack down on modern day violators, such as the Sims Metal Management.
The conveyer belt was idle Tuesday afternoon at Sims Metal Management at the Port of Redwood City. The Environmental Protection Agency says the belt is used to move thousands of pounds of shredded metal from cars onto ships bound for Asia.
"That conveyer belt was functioning in such a way that metals and PCBs, so mercury, copper, lead and PCBs were going directly into the San Francisco Bay, which is a violation of the Clean Water Act," said Jared Blumenfeld from the Environmental Protection Agency's regional administrator.
Blumenfeld says the PCB levels were up to 10,000 times over what was expected and the mercury 100 times -- a danger to fish, wildlife and humans.
"Obviously, there's fishermen and this is a worry for them," said Blumenfeld.
The EPA has taken photos of Sims Metals, which is said to be the largest metals and electronics recycler in the world, and inspectors sent to the facility found evidence of pollution both at the shipping and railcar receiving areas.
"My immediate reaction to what I saw at the water's edge was somewhat alarming," said Luis Garcia-Bakarich from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA says the violations may have been going on as far back as 1992. The agency is now demanding Sims put a prevention plan in place and clean up the current mess. Fines for non-compliance could run more than $37,000 a day per violation.
Daniel Strechay from the Sims Metal Management company issued a statement saying, "We will work with all affected parties to remedy the conditions identified EPA. As recyclers, the health and protection of the environment is core to our business and we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that."
Last time Sims was in the news was for a fire in 2007 with plumes of smoke visible throughout the Bay Area. Now they are being used by the EPA as a warning to other companies.
"We are watching. We will take action," said Blumenfeld.
The EPA has given Sims until Monday to present its mediation plan. The company says it will meet that deadline.