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Pittsburgh-area auto shredder to reduce pollution, fumes and dust after EPA order

Emissions at Metalico Pittsburgh
Courtesy of Allegheny County Clean Air Now
Emissions at Metalico Pittsburgh.

The EPA has ordered a metal recycler near Pittsburgh to limit its hours of operations and its emissions, after years of complaints about smell, smoke and emissions from the site.

Officials from Metalico Pittsburgh, Inc., which shreds vehicles on Neville Island in the Ohio River a few miles from Downtown Pittsburgh, signed the order in December. It was finalized in January.

The shredder has been a nuisance for those living nearby, said Angelo Taranto, of Allegheny County Citizens for Clean Air Now, or ACCAN, which has been advocating for the site to be cleaned up for years.

Neighbors have reported periodic explosions and fires at the plant, which boasts on its website of shredding 6,000 cars a month.

The shredding can result in fires and smoke because the cars may still have fuel and other flammable material in them, Taranto said. As a result, residents have complained about smoke, sound, and the smell of burning plastic.

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“It’s been extremely disruptive, particularly for those that are right close to the river,” Taranto said. “It makes people sick. They have to close up their houses in the summer. They can’t let their children out when the odor and the smoke is heavy.”

The EPA consent order limits the company to operating for a maximum of 10 hours per day, or eight hours during an air quality action day, when pollution levels in the region are forecast to exceed federal health standards.

It also sets production limits for the scrap shredding at the plant of no more than 120 tons per hour, or 240,000 tons per year. The order set a limit on air pollution of no more than 50 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, airborne chemicals that form smog. And it sets additional reporting requirements for the plant.

Company officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Virginia Nurk, an EPA spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement the agency was “satisfied” the order “will bring an added level of human health and environmental protections for those living and working near this Allegheny County facility. EPA will continue to work closely with state and local partners to ensure this matter is fully resolved.”

Metalico operates 21 other scrap metal recycling facilities in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Ohio and Mississippi. It is owned by the Chinese metal recycling firm Ye Chiu Group.

Smoke from a fire coming off Metalico Pittsburgh, April 14, 2021.
Courtesy of Allegheny County Clean Air Now
Smoke from a fire coming off Metalico Pittsburgh, April 14, 2021.

Oversight of the plant accelerated after a fire burned for hours in April 2021.

“It burned for over 6 hours, just generating this really horrific, toxic, dark smoke that blew into (the nearby community of) Emsworth and beyond, forcing people to evacuate their homes. Some people had to stay away overnight,” Taranto said.

The consent order mandates the company write a plan to respond to fires. That includes the use of infrared cameras to scan for signs of fire, fire prevention and response training for staff, and the installation of a “‘water cannon’ or other fire suppression systems” on-site.

The company also remove flammable substances from cars and trucks before crushing them. The order states the company will drain autos of fuels and fluids, remove batteries from electric cars and hybrids, and take out pressurized hazardous liquid containers before shredding. It must also use dust suppression techniques, like water spraying.

The recent consent order comes after an October 2021 notice of violation the EPA sent to the company. Using images from a camera that ACCAN set up near Metalico, the EPA identified several days when visible emissions swept off the site, in violation of the plant’s air pollution permits. The EPA also determined the site had the potential to emit at least 50 tons per year of volatile organic compounds or VOCs. That would make it a ‘major’ source of VOCs, and subject to more stringent regulation.

EPA based its calculations on emissions data from other, similar-sized metal recyclers with shredders, and the capacity of Metalico’s equipment that shreds flattened cars, appliances, and steel.

Metalico currently has a minor source operating permit from the Allegheny County Health Department, making it subject to fewer regulations than it would be if it were a ‘major’ source.

The EPA’s order allows it to remain a minor source, provided it adheres to the terms set out by the agency. Failing to comply with the order could result in fines for the company.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.

Reid R. Frazier covers energy for The Allegheny Front. His work has taken him as far away as Texas and Louisiana to report on the petrochemical industry and as close to home as Greene County, Pennsylvania to cover the shale gas boom. His award-winning work has also aired on NPR, Marketplace and other outlets. Reid is currently contributing to StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WESA, WITF and WHYY covering the Commonwealth's energy economy. Email: