EL CERRITO, Calif. - A new report by a leading California Environmental Justice group, Global Community Monitor (GCM), has uncovered a potentially massive problem from the nation's billion dollar metal recycling industry. The report finds that metal recycling, generally considered a green industry, both releases toxic air contaminants during processing operations and is currently unregulated. In response to independent air testing done by GCM and neighbors of several scrap metal facilities in California, the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District may become the first agency in the nation to draft a rule to regulate toxic emissions from these facilities.
'Recycling scrap metal is generally good for the environment, but it can also create serious air pollution and health threats to neighbors,' said Denny Larson, Executive Director of GCM. 'Independent air testing by neighbors downwind of several scrap metal recyclers and foundries has revealed high levels of toxic metals and gases. Somehow this national toxic threat has escaped regulation from EPA and air pollution control agencies, despite years of community complaints.'
The new report, Green Industry? Under the Radar: Air Pollution from Metal Recyclers, identifies more than 40 scrap metal recyclers and foundries in the San Francisco Bay Area that potentially release metal particles and gases while pre-processing materials for recycling. Nationally, since 2002 scrap metal recycling has grown dramatically. Overall, the scrap industry processes more than 131,541,787 tons of recyclable material each year into raw material feedstock for industrial manufacturing around the world. In 2007 the United States exported over 10 billion dollars worth of scrap steel alone.
At many metal recycling facilities, scrap metal varies in form. Car engine blocks, refrigerators, old electrical wiring and air conditioners are cut, stripped and bundled into large bales in the open air. Non-metal substances, such as paints and volatile gases, are often removed from the metals and can be blown into the surrounding community by the wind.
Independent air testing has identified cancer causing metal particles escaping from the operations. One air sample showed the banned chemical Freon 113, which may have been released from breaking up of old refrigeration equipment to recover the metals. GCM is spearheading efforts to require comprehensive air pollution controls at recycling facilities.