Attorney General Becerra Announces $4.1 Million Settlement with Schnitzer Steel for Illegally Releasing Hazardous Waste and Harmful Emissions into the West Oakland Community
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley, today announced the terms of a settlement reached with Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc. (Schnitzer) for violating environmental laws in the operation of its metal shredding and recycling facility in West Oakland. The violations involve the release of toxic air contaminants and hazardous particulates from the facility into the West Oakland community and nearby environments, including the Oakland Estuary. The settlement requires Schnitzer to pay $4.1 million for penalties, costs, and supplemental environmental projects to benefit the community, and make significant changes to its operations and practices to protect the health of Oakland residents and the environment.
"Communities in West Oakland already experience a disproportionate share of environmental pollution and some of the highest asthma rates in the state," said Attorney General Becerra. “So we won't sit back while corporate polluters make the situation worse by dispersing their toxic waste into these neighborhoods and surrounding waters. Everyone deserves to breathe clean air and drink clean water. This settlement should serve as a warning to any company that believes it can put profits ahead of people."
“The investigation of this metal shredding facility and the resulting settlement shows the power of our partnerships with other State and local agencies,” said DTSC Director Meredith Williams. "Strong enforcement underscores our commitment to those who live and work in communities impacted by a disparate level of pollution and potential exposure.”
“As a result of this settlement, Schnitzer will address a root cause of pollution that has impacted West Oakland for years,” said District Attorney O’Malley. “My Office will always take action and work collaboratively to protect the community from illegal operations that negatively impact the health of our community members and the health of our environment.”
At its Oakland facility, Schnitzer shreds and sorts metal materials – such as end-of-life vehicles and appliances – which are then sold and transported from the facility for reuse in steel mills and foundries globally. Investigations by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and DTSC found that Schnitzer was releasing particulate matter contaminated with hazardous metals — such as lead, cadmium, and zinc — into the environment and neighboring areas, including a number of businesses, a children’s medical office, and the Oakland Estuary, which connects to the San Francisco Bay. The facility is also less than half a mile from a West Oakland neighborhood designated as a “disadvantaged community” by the California Environmental Protection Agency. After being notified of the investigations, Schnitzer enclosed areas of the facility to minimize the dispersal of hazardous particulate matter created by the facility’s operations.
The settlement resolves Schnitzer’s violations of multiple state laws, including California’s Proposition 65, the Fish and Game Code, the Unfair Competition Law, and the Hazardous Waste Control Law.
The settlement requires a monetary payment of $4.1 million. This consists of roughly $1.55 million for civil penalties, $2.1 million for supplemental environmental projects that will directly benefit environmental justice communities in West Oakland, and $450,000 for reimbursement of investigative and enforcement costs. Schnitzer must also comply with several injunctive terms to ensure future compliance with environmental laws and to protect the health of West Oakland communities.
In addition, the settlement requires Schnitzer to:
- Inspect areas half a mile around the Oakland facility for byproducts from its metal shredding operations, and remove and properly dispose of those byproducts as hazardous waste;
- Install state-of-the-art air pollution control equipment to dramatically reduce Schnitzer’s emissions of toxic air pollutants;
- Keep shredded metal from getting into storm drains or other locations where it could enter waterways;
- Provide warnings under Proposition 65 to individuals who live or work in the areas surrounding the Oakland facility that they are being exposed to hazardous chemicals from the facility; and
- Maintain in good working condition all upgrades and other equipment at the facility.
Schnitzer will also fund the following supplemental environmental projects:
The West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) is a community-based environmental justice nonprofit organization that is working to improve air quality and public health and to encourage neighborhood vitality and sustainable development in impacted communities. WOEIP will receive more than $673,000 to install and maintain air filtration systems and HVAC upgrades at the West Oakland Resiliency Hub (a group of three Oakland-owned community centers — the West Oakland Senior Center, the West Oakland Library, and DeFremery Park Recreation Center), and $688,000 to install and maintain air filtration systems at the Marcus Garvey, Slim Jenkins, and St. Mary’s Center affordable housing sites in West Oakland. The HVAC upgrades and mechanical air filtration significantly reduces levels of harmful ultra-fine particulate matter, including diesel soot, which will improve respiratory health for in the community. An additional $480,000 will go toward the design, installation, and implementation of air quality monitoring in West Oakland, with a focus on toxic contaminants and particulate matter speciation. This air monitoring will offer critical new information for the facilitation of West Oakland Community Air Action Plan’s recommendations to reduce pollution and mitigate its negative health impacts.
The Prescott-Joseph Center is a nonprofit center for community services, education, culture and development in West Oakland. As part of the settlement, the Prescott-Joseph Center will receive nearly $94,000 to fund its Breathmobile Program, a mobile pediatric asthma clinic that serves Alameda County and West Contra Costa County.
Alameda County Fish and Game Commission is a citizen advisory group whose purpose is to achieve conservation and repopulation of fish and wildlife in Alameda County. The Commission provides grant funding primarily to non-profit organizations to undertake conservation projects to benefit fish and wildlife. District Attorney O’Malley has awarded her office’s $103,000 portion of the Fish and Game Code penalty to the Alameda County Fish and Game Commission.
A copy of the settlement agreement, which is subject to final approval by the court, is available here.