Daily Journal file photo
The last two fires at Sims Metal Management occurred in November and December.
Redwood City gave Sims Metal Management more than a dozen new safety measures to implement and extended the initial 60-day evaluation period slated to end Friday while the recycling operator considers the directive and outside agencies continue investigating a pair of fires within weeks of each other at the port location.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced legislation Friday requiring state regulation of shredded automobile material that he said could drift off site and contaminate the environment. In its announcement of the bill, Hill’s office specifically cites Sims for five of the six fires at metal recycling facilities in the Bay Area since 2007 of which three were at the Redwood City location. The last two blazes in November and December led Redwood City to impose the safety measures in December which city officials on Friday reiterated along with the new list.
A Sims spokeswoman said the company was confused by Hill’s bill including mention of the fires.
“We don’t understand how the legislation relates to such fires but as previously reported we have taken numerous steps to eliminate the fire risk referenced in the press release,” said Jill Rodby, the public relations and government affairs manager for Sims’ Northern California region.
The causes of the two fires at 699 Seaport Blvd. are still under investigation but Redwood City police recently called the second “suspicious” and asked the public for help determining if it was deliberately set. The two-alarm Dec. 17 fire, about five weeks after the first, was reported about 1 a.m. by an on-duty employee who heard a loud explosion followed by the ignition of a metal stockpile which police later said contained nothing that would self combust.
Mayor Jeff Gee said that the possibility of arson being behind the second fire doesn’t deter the city from increasing safety at the facility.
“We feel they have a responsibility to manage their operations in a safer, more secure manner and do a better job of preventing fires both accidental and suspicious,” Gee said in a prepared statement.
The recommendations issued in a Feb. 20 letter to Sims include high-definition cameras located around debris piles and approaches to the piles, a better perimeter security system, locked games at all times, motion sensors, a minimum of two security guards with special machinery training, better lighting around debris piles and a key card system or similar control to track who comes in and out of the facility.
Sims’ president is hoping to set up a meeting with City Manager Bob Bell and other city officials next week and in the interim will continue to operate as it has the last 60 days, Rodby said.
Bell is optimistic about Sims’ participation going forward.
“We believe Sims will find that it is in their best interest to implement all measures that the city has identified as increasing fire safety for this facility, and the good of our community and broader region,” Bell said in a prepared statement.
The earlier safety measures imposed in December include allowing unannounced inspections, pushing up delivery times to avoid stockpiles of unprocessed scrap metal and ensuring three qualified operators are present 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the time of the after-hours fire, Sims had only a security guard at the facility because it was not operating. The company is to halt operations if staffing levels fall short.
The city’s letter requests the “shredding to the ground” practice continue and that Sims hire a fire safety and operational consultant for recommendations on fire prevention and industry best practices.
Sims has complied with all the mandates and recently held a community meeting to answer public concerns. Separately, Redwood City has ongoing discussions with investigating governmental agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Toxic Substances Control and Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
As Redwood City works to keep its community secure from future fires like those at Sims, Hill is tackling safety through state regulation. His bill proposes elimination exemptions from hazardous waste handling and disposal laws for facilities that handle vehicle shredder waste. Hill also proposes the Department of Toxic Substances Control develop regulations regarding treatment, transport and disposal to avoid contamination, explosion or other potential hazards.
“This bill allows California’s toxics regulators to do their job and protect public health,” Hill said in a prepared statement. “We shouldn’t be exempting waste from regulation if it contains known carcinogens.”
The 1988 variance for auto waste recyclers was based on the argument that treated waste does not release contaminants into the environment but in 2002 DTSC found it exceeded state thresholds for lead, zinc and cadmium, according to Hill’s office.
Approximately 700,00 tons of this waste, also known as fluff, end up in state landfills annually.
Specific to the Peninsula, Hill’s office said that in 2011 the EPA discovered PCBs, mercury, lead, copper and zinc in Redwood Creek and around the Sims plant. PCB levels were 10,000 times greater than expected while lead and copper were 10 to 15 times higher than acceptable, according to Hill’s data.
The bill also notes that Sims was cited by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District after a 2007 fire and was accused by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 of allowing fibrous automobile shredder residue to blow downwind into wetlands around Bair Island.
Further investigation found no link between the material and Sims, Rodby said.
She also said many of Hill’s other contentions about Sims are inaccurate. The company is unaware of any sampling by the EPA in Redwood Creek and Bay in 2011 or directly related to the operator and the PCB level claim based on a prior erroneous report that listed parts per million rather than parts per billion, Rodby said.
She said Sims supports an ongoing study by DTSC of the waste treatment process and development of consistent statewide standards for shredder residue.
A Hill spokesman said they stand by the information the office released.
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