Schnitzer Steel issued 2 air quality violations for Oakland fire that prompted Bay Area advisory

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Friday, August 11, 2023
Schnitzer Steel issued 2 air quality violations for Oakland fire
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued Schnitzer Steel two Notices of Violation for Wednesday's fire at the Port of Oakland.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Oakland fire fighters, assisted by other Bay Area agencies, responded to a fire burning at the Schnitzer Steel recycling facility late Wednesday afternoon. It was declared to be under control by Wednesday night, but plumes of smoke continued to rise overnight, impacting air quality throughout the Bay Area.

"One of my staff members, who lives in Alameda, said that he smelled it very strongly last night in Alameda. It was kind of nauseating," said Brian Beveridge. He is the co-executive director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an environmental justice group focused on air quality.

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"So, when that pile catches fire, it's not like a camp fire. This is a fire of petroleum products, and plastics, and rubber and all these other things that are highly toxic," he said.

Schnitzer Steel is a scrap metal processing facility that shreds cars and appliances for recycling. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued an advisory, which lasted through Thursday morning. It had a crew on scene, along with the EPA, to monitor and investigate.

"As always with any type of fire, whether it's this material fire or a wildfire, the advice is pretty much the same. Stay indoors with windows and doors closed if you smell smoke," said Ralph Borrmann with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which issued Schnitzer two Notices of Violation for Wednesday's fire.

Schnitzer Steel is located just half a mile away from residential neighborhoods, made up mostly of communities of color, which have dealt with the aftermath of several fires at facility over the past decade. The last fire at the facility was in June of 2020.

The company also reached a $4 million settlement with the state of California in 2021, for releasing particulate matter contaminated with hazardous metals into the environment.

Beveridge says he understand the nature of the recycling business. But he adds, there are industry standards in place to help reduce possible toxic byproducts of these types of business.

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"These are all things that industry has been doing for decades now. These are things they need to be able to solve," Beveridge said.

In an email to ABC7, Schnitzer Steel writes, "At our Oakland recycling facility, we are focused on operating responsibly. The Company has made long-term investments in air emissions controls and stormwater treatment to mitigate the environmental impact of our recycling activities."

Beveridge says his organization plans to file a formal complaint in their ongoing effort for tighter regulations and stronger enforcement.

"We are just a little neighborhood organization. But we will do whatever we can to push for justice in this situation," Beveridge said.

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