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U.S. EPA Enforcement Alert Regarding Metal Recycling Facilities

Posted: September 2nd, 2021

Authors: Merritt M.  Mike K. 

In July 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) issued an enforcement alert for metal recycling facilities that operate auto and scrap metal shredders. The enforcement alert is intended to inform facilities of potential excess emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) from facility operations that may not be quantified or permitted.   VOC are ozone pre-cursors and are regulated under the Clean Air Act as well as by state and local air pollution control regulations.

What are we talking about?

Scrap metal and automobile recycling facilities are located in almost all 50 states, and U.S. EPA’s alert states that there are more than 250 metal recycling facilities currently operating shredders. Metal recycling facilities with shredders typically receive a combination of automobiles, construction materials, and appliances that are prepared for shredding by removing hazardous fluids and non-metallic materials.  The metal is then processed by a shredder, which tears it into smaller pieces, that are then sent off for recycling to manufacturers or steel foundries.  Metal recycling facilities are often located in or adjacent to cities and urban areas, potentially impacting overburdened communities.

Why is this enforcement alert important?

In recent years, U.S. EPA has evaluated and investigated several metal recycling facilities by issuing Clean Air Act (CAA) Section 114(a) letters and responding to complaints and enforcement violations.  U.S. EPA has found that shredding operations are sources of VOC emissions through the volatilization of residual fluids and fuels that are not completely removed from the prepared scrap metal.  The lack of reliable emissions test data may have resulted in an underestimation of VOC emissions industry-wide.  Rates of VOC emissions vary widely, and are dependent on the size of the shredder, the type of material processed and if it is properly drained, and whether the shredder is enclosed and operates existing control equipment. This is especially concerning for facilities located in ozone non-attainment areas (where permitting thresholds are low and VOC emissions standards can be stringent) or facilities that are subject to VOC emissions limits (and may be under-reporting their emissions).

What does this enforcement look like?

Enforcement activity for the industry sector has increased.  In the alert, U.S. EPA identifies three facilities that were assessed state and federal penalties, along with requirements to make significant operational changes and to implement VOC control technologies.  Additionally, citizen action and environmental groups are engaged in communities with environmental justice considerations.  The most significant action was the 2019 U.S. EPA administrative consent order (ACO) issued to General Iron Industries’ Chicago facility.  U.S. EPA and the Chicago Department of Public Health had received numerous complaints about air emissions and non-compliance at the facility.  After conducting several inspections and requiring emissions testing, U.S. EPA determined that emissions of VOC exceeded allowable limits and that the facility was incorrectly permitted.  With this enforcement action, U.S. EPA also required emissions testing for metal hazardous air pollutants (HAP) and particulate matter (PM).

Associated costs with these enforcement actions are significant: litigation resulting from regulatory agency actions, emissions testing, financial penalties, installation of air pollution control equipment, obtaining air permits, and developing compliance strategies.

What does this mean for my facility now?

ALL4 is recommending affected facilities take a few preliminary steps to get started:

  • assess the process for accepting materials and implement pollution prevention/minimization practices;
  • use recent emissions test data from other, similar facilities, to estimate potential VOC emissions; and
  • evaluate the potential emissions and compare to state requirements and New Source Review (NSR) or Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) significant emissions rates.

In the meantime, stay tuned for Part 2 of the “scrap metal recycling series” while the ALL4 team is reviewing and summarizing state responses to the U.S. EPA enforcement alert – and they’re coming in fast.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss assistance the ALL4 team can provide to your facility, please reach out to Merritt McGlynn at (610) 422-1133 or mmcglynn@all4inc.com or Mike Kendall at (843) 460-5378 or mkendall@all4inc.com.

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