Yesterday, Puget Soundkeeper (Soundkeeper) and Seattle Iron & Metals Corp. (SIMC) filed an amended consent decree in the US District Court after SIMC failed to meet pollution control deadlines established in an initial settlement filed last year.
To protect the health and welfare of Duwamish Valley residents impacted by air and water pollution from SIMC’s operations, Soundkeeper and SIMC negotiated a new agreement which requires SIMC to pay an additional $90,000 to community organizations to fund local restoration and pollution mitigation work. This payment is in addition to the $200,000 SIMC was required to pay under the original consent decree.
“It is important that Seattle Iron and Metals be held accountable for its commitments to control its pollution,” said Josh Osborne-Klein, Puget Soundkeeper Interim Staff Attorney. “For far too long, this facility has been contributing to the disproportionate environmental burden carried by Duwamish Valley residents.”
“Especially today, given the unacceptable levels of air quality in the Duwamish Valley, we are grateful that our Coalition member, Puget Soundkeeper, has ensured that penalties will be placed on Seattle Iron and Metals,” said Robin Schwartz, South Park resident and Advocacy Manager for the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. “Our community, and especially our youth and children, deserve healthy air to breathe. Going forward, it is our hope that SIMC meets its air pollution control deadlines as required, and that people living in the Valley can coexist healthfully with industry.”
While SIMC completed some of the water pollution control measures required in the initial agreement, SIMC failed to apply for permits for the air pollution control equipment needed to decrease its pollution discharges by December 2018. This failure resulted in significant delays in installing the required air pollution control equipment.
Permitting for the new air pollution control equipment is already underway, but is anticipated to take several months to complete. The new agreement imposes the following deadlines for completion of the air pollution controls, tied to the date of permit issuance:
o Trommel enclosure: Within 21 weeks of permit issuance. Estimated completion in April 2021.
o Wind fences: Within 23 weeks of permit issuance. Estimated completion in November 2021.
o Shredder enclosure: Within 63 weeks of permit issuance. Estimated completion in August 2022.
The new agreement also includes significant penalties against SIMC if it fails to comply with the new deadlines.
In addition, the amended consent decree prohibits SIMC from operating its shredder equipment – a major source of air pollution – on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and federal holidays during the dry season until the new air pollution control equipment is operational. SIMC is also obligated to perform continuous dust emissions monitoring under the direction of an air pollution expert for two additional years after the air pollution controls are operational to determine their effectiveness, and take additional corrective actions if the expert determines the controls are not effective in reducing dust concentrations.
The new agreement requires SIMC to continue stormwater monitoring and maintain stormwater treatment facilities implemented under the original consent decree. Other requirements in the original consent decree are still in force. See prior press release for summary.
Immediate and expansive improvements are needed as local residents continue to be disproportionately affected by the pollution from SIMC’s facility, compounded by the impacts of the West Seattle Bridge closure and the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2013 report that examined a range of disproportionate health exposures and impacts affecting people in the Duwamish Valley revealed that the 98108 zip code (where SIMC is located) has some of the worst air quality in the region. Driven by community health concerns, the initial settlement required dust controls intended to reduce the disproportionate burden on residents who rightfully deserve a clean and healthy living space.
The Duwamish River also supports significant wildlife populations, including endangered Chinook salmon.
Soundkeeper first filed a Clean Water Act (CWA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) suit against SIM, a scrap metal and vehicle recycling facility, on July 12, 2012. The suit alleged numerous violations of permit limits for discharges to the Duwamish and air emissions containing toxic metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other dangerous substances. Soundkeeper initiated the litigation with the goal of reducing the amount of pollutants from SIMC’s operations that are discharged to the Duwamish River and contaminate the air in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood.
On January 17, 2019, Puget Soundkeeper and SIMC filed a consent decree in US District Court resolving the case. The initial settlement required SIMC to make over $1 million worth of improvements to control air pollution, wastewater discharges, and polluted stormwater discharges on the facility site, and pay $200,000 to fund local restoration and pollution mitigation work in the community.
In 2018, Justices Steve Gonzales and Mary Yu issued a strong opinion in favor of Soundkeeper’s position, stating “The heavy contamination of the Waterway, coupled with the tenacious bioaccumulative properties of PCBs, illustrates the significant hazard this pollution poses to aquatic life and to the health of Washington citizens, especially Native American peoples, who consume and commercially harvest Waterway fish and shellfish. To combat and protect against these risks, we must zealously guard our natural resources. Granting an effluent permit that fails to ensure compliance with our strict water quality standards does little to protect these resources and will ultimately contribute to the continued contamination of the Waterway. Entities have no right to pollute state waters.”
Puget Soundkeeper is an environmental non-profit whose mission is to protect and preserve the waters of Puget Sound. Since 1984, Puget Soundkeeper has filed over 200 legal actions. Funds from successful settlements go to restoring polluted waterways in the region through the Puget Sound Stewardship & Mitigation Fund.
Puget Soundkeeper is represented in this case by Claire Tonry and Richard Smith of Smith & Lowney PLLC, and Puget Soundkeeper Staff Attorneys Katelyn Kinn and Josh Osborne-Klein.
Josh Osborne-Klein, firstname.lastname@example.org, (503) 567- 9608
Paulina Lopez, email@example.com, (206) 251-2038