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EPA To Boost Air Enforcement at Scrap Metal Recycling Facilities

August 18, 2021

The expectation that the Biden Administration would ramp up environmental enforcement has quickly been realized in the scrap metal handling industry.

EPA Publishes Enforcement Alert and Takes New Enforcement Actions Against Scrap Metal Shredders/Recyclers

In late July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published an Enforcement Alert identifying emission violations at facilities that shred cars and appliances. There are more than 250 metal shredding operations across the country, and both EPA and state agencies have found emission violations at several of these facilities, many of which are located “in densely populated areas” which “can have an impact on overburdened communities.”

The Alert notifies scrap shredder facility operators of Clean Air Act permitting requirements that may apply, depending on the level of emissions of VOC’s and other pollutants being emitted from the facility. Shredder operators should be aware that VOC’s (or other regulated New Source Review [NSR] pollutant thresholds) may exceed permitting limits and require the installation of emissions controls.

What Does the Alert Recommend?

Although metal recyclers are typically not major industrial facilities, they are often located in scrap yards, which use very large engines to shred automobiles. Those engines emit VOCs. In addition, older cars contain mercury switches, which can emit hazardous air pollutants. EPA’s Alert recommends that scrap metal facility operators “depollute” materials such as gasoline, oil, and other liquids (such as devices that contain mercury) from vehicles before they enter the shredder, accurately estimate VOC emissions and if near major source thresholds, conduct a performance test to measure actual emission levels. If the actual emissions are over major source thresholds, the facility must obtain appropriate permits.

What does this mean for Scrap Metal Shredder owners and operators?

Failure to comply with air permitting regulations is a violation of the Clean Air Act and would subject a facility to enforcement by the state and by EPA and require them to fulfill air permitting requirements as soon as practicable. This could also entail payment of substantial penalties, as states and EPA have already brought actions under this enforcement initiative. For example, a Rhode Island facility was assessed a $2 million state penalty and a $250,000 federal penalty. A New England Company was found to be a major source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and required to install the best available control technology (BACT) for VOCs as well as controls for particulate matter (PM) and acid gas scrubbers. The company entered into a settlement with the state and paid $900,000 in penalties. In addition, an Oakland, CA facility settled a state action by payment of a $4.1 million penalty and agreed to make significant changes to its operations.

If you have any questions about air permitting requirements and compliance with air permitting regulations, please contact us to discuss your specific needs.

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