As metal prices continue to rise, recycling scrap can provide a boost to the pocketbook, while removing the clutter of junk from the landscape.
But if handled incorrectly, scrap metal can also create environmental problems, particularly when it comes to groundwater for wells, as well as rivers, lakes and streams.
The opening of new scrapping operations within the Illinois River watershed – a federal- and state-protected scenic stream – is creating concern among river advocates about the long-term effects the businesses may have.
Save The Illinois River Inc. President Denise Deason-Toyne said the organization is a strong proponent of recycling as a means to protect and preserve the environment.
“[But] scrap metal recycling can create more hazards to the environment than benefits,” said Deason-Toyne. “This is particularly true if the business is operating in a watershed and without substantial pollution control technology. Currently, the majority of the scrap metal recycling industry appears to operate in medium- to small-scale unorganized sectors, without any pollution control. That is because pollution control technology is very expensive, and the states are not adequately regulating and monitoring these activities.”
STIR members have worked countless hours to protect the watershed, and Deason-Toyne said the idea of scrap metal operations causes her concern.
“STIR is very concerned about this additional type and source of non-point source pollution to the waters in the Illinois River watershed,” she said. “Some of the most common types of pollutants that occur from scrap metal operations include oil, petrol and diesel, battery acids, transmission and brake fluids, plus radiator coolant. The chemicals and methods used on the different types of scrap metals create hazardous emissions, including heavy metals which pollute the air, as well as waters. These chemicals and emissions are proven to be extremely harmful to humans, as well as the environment, and should not be allowed in our watershed.”
Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite said he’s aware of two scrap metal operations in the area – one east of the city and one on State Highway 82.
“I will say [we’ve received a couple of calls] about these operations,” said Fite. “The landowner who has a home immediately north of the S.H. 82 business has been concerned because they’re stockpiling materials right against his fence. As scrap relates to the OSRC, unless the regulations have changed, there are only a certain number of salvage vehicles permitted in the watershed of a scenic river. We rely on the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to oversee and regulate those types of operations.”
Deason-Toyne would like to see tight controls in place for scrap metal buyers.
“STIR hopes the state environmental agencies will act swiftly to develop regulations and methods for control, and enforcement of these businesses to protect our waters from yet another source of pollution and degradation,” said Deason-Toyne.
Fite pointed out the ODEQ has regulations in place for scrap businesses.
“The ODEQ has a number of regulations for operating scrap metal yards,” said Fite.
“Stormwater runoff issues, as they relate to the oil and other chemical from salvage vehicles, come under the jurisdiction of the ODEQ. Depending on whether they’re clearing land to expand an operation or initially open one, I’m certain there are permits required.”
ODEQ spokeswoman Erin Hatfield confirmed Tuesday that permitting is required.
“In general, scrap metal facilities are required by ODEQ to obtain a stormwater runoff permit,” said Hatfield. “However, since 1992, no new discharge permits have been issued in the Illinois River Watershed, and facilities that were issued permits prior to 1992 are not allowed to have any increase in discharge. As with any permit issuance, facilities are examined on a case-by-case basis.”
Monty Robbins, owner of Robbins Wrecker and Salvage, has an established scrap metal recycling business at Briggs, and is opening a second location on S.H. 82. Robbins said he has ODEQ stormwater runoff permits for both locations.
“I know [the ODEQ] will not issue any new permits within the Illinois River Watershed,” said Robbins. “We obtained our permit for the new location long before I even bought the truck scales, so it must [lie outside] the watershed boundaries.”
Fite confirmed land on the west side of S.H. 82 is not within the boundaries of the watershed. Another scrap business is located just north of the new Robbins’ site.
Robbins said permitting requires extensive care when working with scrap metal.
“We have to make sure all fluids are drained out cars before we crush them,” said Robbins. “Once the fluids are drained, they’re contained and we have vendors who come in and haul them off. We also have to check water quality at four different points on the property when it rains due to runoff.”
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