Schnitzer metal shredding facility fined for non-compliance (Dec. 2023)

An EPA nationwide Enforcement Action is holding Schnitzer Steel, now doing business as Radius Recycling, responsible for air quality violations caused by its metal shredding operation at 12005 N. Burgard Road in North Portland. Clean Air Act violations were identified in the general shredding process by EPA when they used more accurate testing equipment to measure emissions. The company also failed to get multiple required permits that would have regulated its emissions. 

Map of Schnitzer Steel metal shredding facility
Map of Schnitzer Steel metal shredding facility in St. Johns

The Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) worked with the company on a settlement after testing showed their shredder had the potential to emit up to 670 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) a year, greatly exceeding the state limit of 40 tons a year. The excess emissions could have exposed North Portlanders to almost 17 times higher amounts of VOCs than allowed by the state. VOCs are gases that are emitted into the air from chemicals including components of petroleum fuels, and hydraulic fluids. Some can harm health, including some that cause cancer. 

Metal scrap fire at Schnitzer Steel in St. Johns
Metal scrap fire at Schnitzer Steel in St. Johns in 2017.

The settlement includes an agreement, called a Mutual Agreement and Final Order, between DEQ and Schnitzer Steel. A link to the PDF agreement can be found here (28 pages).

The current shredder was installed in 2007. It is used to break down “end-of-life (salvaged) vehicles, rail cars, home appliances, industrial machinery, manufacturing scrap, and construction and demolition scrap…” (Schnitzer Steel Annual Report 2022). “Significant amounts of non-metal materials are contained in the shredded materials, which can vaporize and become organic air emissions (VOCs). The violent nature of the process creates the potential for particulate matter emissions of various sizes. It can generate emissions of hazardous air pollutants including lead, zinc, cadmium, mercury…” (EPA).

In similar metal shredder enforcement actions on three other facilities under different state compliance agencies, the fines have ranged from $900,000 to $4.1 million.

Radius Recycling/Schnitzer Steel is one of the largest publicly traded companies in Oregon. It reported that its last fiscal year was the second-best in its history. It posted $3.6 billion in revenue and $172 million in profits in 2022.

Upon receiving a recent award for corporate citizenship, the company was lauded for its core values: sustainability, safety, and integrity. Current CEO, Tamara Lundgren, said she “sees its success as built on the trust of all of its stakeholders.” 

When asked why the company was allowed to avoid the permitting process that could have indicated excess emissions, DEQ public affairs specialist said she had to check with staff. 

Radius’ representatives were not available for comment before the press deadline.