Redwood City to Regulators: We Are "Very Concerned" After Sims Metal Fires

City officials request meeting with regulators to discuss how to do more to prevent future fires

By Vicky Nguyen, Liz Wagner and Mark Villarreal
|  Friday, Jan 24, 2014  |  Updated 12:11 PM PDT
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After two fires in November and December at Sims Metal Management's auto shredder facility in Redwood City, city leaders are calling on regulators to do more to help protect residents from future incidents. Vicky Nguyen reports in a story that aired Jan. 23, 2014.

After two fires in November and December at Sims Metal Management's auto shredder facility in Redwood City, city leaders are calling on regulators to do more to help protect residents from future incidents. Vicky Nguyen reports in a story that aired Jan. 23, 2014.

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City leaders in Redwood City sent letters to federal, state and county regulators requesting discussions on how to better protect residents following two recent fires at the Sims Metal Management auto shredding facility in Redwood City, the Investigative Unit has learned.

In the letter dated January 16, city manager Robert Bell wrote that "Redwood City is very concerned about what happened and eager to see that steps are taken to ensure our community and the region are protected from any future incidents."

Six fires have broken out at metal recycling facilities in the Bay Area since 2007. Five of them have happened at facilities owned by Sims. Three of the fires have occurred at Sims' Redwood City plant.

"We’re concerned as anyone else about what started these fires and committed to making sure they don’t happen again," said Jill Rodby, Sims' spokesperson, during an interview Thursday.

The meeting requested by Redwood City leaders is scheduled for Jan. 29. Meanwhile, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued public nuisance violations for the November and December fires but have yet to issue any fines or penalties.

Critics say regulators have not done enough to prevent fires or to address concerns regarding the waste left behind from the metal recycling process.

"It is toxic and hazardous because we have identified lead and other chemicals that are part of that scrap metal process," Southern California community activist Jesse Marquez said.

Marquez lives near a metal shredding facility, owned by another company, in Terminal Island.

The Investigative Unit first reported in September that the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control planned to reclassify metal shredder waste as "hazardous" in 2007 because department studies found that the residue contains lead, cadmium and zinc at levels above regulatory thresholds.

Click here to watch the investigation into the DTSC and the metal shredding industry.

During an interview last August, former DTSC director Maureen Gorsen told the Investigative Unit that, after she left the department, the DTSC was pressured by the metal shredding industry and backed off that plan.

"There is no accountability for an end to end process and making decisions and conclusions," Gorsen said.

At a public meeting Thursday night in Oakland, DTSC's hazardous waste chief Rick Brausch said that the department is again studying the issue, which has been debated for more than 25 years.

When asked why the DTSC has taken so long to make a decision, Brausch said, "That's one of the things our director [Debbie Raphael] was also frustrated with; the idea these issues have been coming up repeatedly."

During an interview last August, former DTSC director Maureen Gorsen told the Investigative Unit that after she left the department, the DTSC was pressured by the metal shredding industry and backed off that plan.

"There is no accountability for an end to end process and making decisions and conclusions," Gorsen said.

If you have a tip for the Investigative Unit email theunit@nbcbayarea.com or call 888-996-TIPS.

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