Oakland A’s Sue California Regulator Over Toxins Near Planned Stadium Site

Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland, where the Oakland Athletics baseball team plans to build its new 34,000-seat stadium complex. (By Johan Jönsson, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link)

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — The Oakland A’s baseball team sued California’s toxic waste department Wednesday, claiming it has failed to rein in pollution generated by Schnitzer Steel — a multinational company operating the largest metal-shredding facility in the state next to the team’s proposed future waterfront home.

The Schnitzer facility at 1101 Embarcadero West, where old cars and appliances are turned into scrap by its “mega-shredder,” poses a serious risk to the 23,000 people who live within a mile of the facility, the team says in a petition filed in Alameda County Superior Court.

Schnitzer’s hazardous waste management practices landed it in hot water with the Legislature years ago, leading to the passage of Senate Bill 1249. The bill requires the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to regulate the facility and ensure that it properly disposes of shredder waste more thoroughly.

The legislation was prompted by a department study that found shredder residue contained toxic levels of lead, zinc and cadmium.

Since the 1980s, the A’s petition says, Schnizter and other metal shredders have been exempted from having to dispose of this metal residue as hazardous waste by receiving a classification as nonhazardous waste under subdivision (f) of Title 22 of California’s code of regulations.

SB 1249 was supposed to rescind the historical “f letter” exemption by Jan. 1, 2018, but it remains in place to this day, and Schnitzer continues to store residue in uncovered outdoor piles that leach into the soil and groundwater, according to the petition.

The piles can also erupt in flames, which the petition notes happened at least four times in 2018 and most recently in June 2020.

Exposure to the chemicals from the metal residue and black smoke plumes can cause liver and kidney damage and exacerbate respiratory conditions according to the team.

The petition notes that emergency room trips for asthma in the West Oakland neighborhoods near the facility are almost double Alameda County’s rate, and that rates of heart failure, stroke and deaths from cardiovascular disease are also much higher.

“In fact, an African American child born in West Oakland has a life expectancy that is 12.4 years shorter than a white child living in the more affluent Oakland Hills,” the petition says. “DTSC’s failure to obey the Legislature has let down the West Oakland community, its residents, students, and the thousands of people who access its services and businesses.”

The petition adds that with an average of $2 billion in total revenue and $85 million in net income over the last three years, Schnitzer can well afford to manage its waste in a way that protects public health.

The team is currently fighting with Schnitzer and the trucking industry over a sprawling mixed-use project — a 34,000-seat stadium and event venue that includes 3,000 new residences, restaurants and a hotel on land currently used for maritime and trucking purposes. This past March, Schnitzer Steel, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, the Harbor Trucking Association, and the California Trucking Association sued the Oakland A’s, City of Oakland, and Governor Gavin Newsom for trying to fast-track the new ballpark project without a thorough environmental review.

In an email, Colin Kelly, director of public affairs at Schnitzer Steel, said the team’s petition “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.”

“The men and women that work at the port 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,” Kelly added. “Suing the state agency that regulates industrial businesses 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 Department of Toxic Substances Control did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Oakland Athletics president Dave Kaval took to Twitter on Wednesday to say that the lawsuit is not about the ballpark, but environmental justice for West Oakland. “This is bigger than baseball,” he said. 

The team wants the court to order the toxic substances agency to rescind Schnitzer’s “f letter” exemption “and regulate its Oakland metal shredding facility pursuant to the California Hazardous Waste Control Law.”

William Sloan with Venable LLP and R. James Slaughter with Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP represent the A’s.

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