The Oakland A’s sued the state Department of Toxic Substances Control on Wednesday, to force an environmental crackdown on a West Oakland steel recycling facility near the team’s proposed ballpark and development project.
The suit aims to force the state to act on 2014 legislation requiring that regulators strip Schnitzer Steel of its current exemption from state hazardous waste laws - if it did not take specific actions by 2018.
Activists point to a series of fires at the facility as evidence of the dangers - Schnitzer has seen five such fires since 2018, including one in june of this year.
Activist Margaret Gordon says those fires are an all-to-familiar event for the surrounding community.
“We definitely see the smokestacks from the fires,” said Gordon, who has lived near the facility since 1992 and runs the non-profit West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project.
“It cannot continuously have these fires,” she said. “Nobody seems to want to clarify what happened -- or give us solutions to not have these fires.”
But fires are not the only alleged hazard from the plant, said Brian Beveridge, who co-runs the West Oakland environmental monitoring effort with Gordon.
Beveridge, who lives a quarter of a mile away from the facility, claims it spews out a kind of toxic fluff. He's referring to what’s left after the facility shreds vinyl car interiors.
He says while much of the plastic is captured in the recycling process, some escapes and becomes airborne.
“This polyester fiber has been found blowing around in little tumbleweeds all through Jack London Square,” he said. “First you have tiny fibers, that are probably covered in petroleum products, and now they’re in your sandwich which you are eating al fresco at Jack London Square.”
The steel recycler's facility sits next to Howard Terminal - the 55-acre site where the A’s have proposed a ballpark and luxury development. But A’s President Dave Kaval said Wednesday that the suit is simply about fairness to a long-beleaguered community.
“All we want is that, in the same way that we follow all state laws, that all members of the neighborhood do the same,” he said.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control declined to comment on the pending litigation, but said it is “deeply committed” to protecting the community.
Meanwhile, Schnitzer Steel says it has invested $30 million in “industry leading emission control” efforts. In a statement, the company said, “The Oakland A’s’ attack on the Department of Toxic Substances Control and Schnitzer Steel is nothing more than an acceleration of the A’s efforts to dismantle the Port of Oakland to make room for their waterfront stadium and luxury housing development."
Adding that the suit, “is an attempt by the A’s to distract from the lack of information and accountability they have demonstrated in their planning for a commercial real estate development at the working waterfront.”
The company also claims that Oakland port workers themselves have “been clear that the A’s plan is incompatible with their work and will put at risk many of the last high-paying, blue collar jobs held by local Black residents in Oakland.”
A's Chief Kaval dismisses the criticism, and insists the fight is about more than the proposed ballpark.
"If we ended up building a ballpark on the moon,” he said, “this is still something we would pursue -- because we are located a half mile from there.”
He concluded: “We are key stakeholder, regardless of the ballpark.”