U.S., Pennsylvania Settlement to Reduce Hazardous Pollution from the American Zinc Recycling facility

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WASHINGTON (February 9, 2021) — American Zinc Recycling Corp. (AZR) has settled a federal-state lawsuit citing violations of air, water and hazardous waste environmental laws at its facility in Palmerton, Pennsylvania, delivering environmental and public health benefits, including reduced lead dust exposure, for nearby residents. Lead exposure poses particular health risks to young children and pregnant women.

In settlement papers filed on January 19 in federal court in Scranton, Pa., AZR has agreed to carry out an estimated $4.3 million in measures to comply with federal and state environmental laws. This settlement is expected to result in substantial reductions of pollution from the AZR facility, including an estimated 47 million pounds of electric arc furnace dust over three years. AZR also will pay a $3.3 million penalty. The complaint and proposed consent decree were filed by the U.S. Justice Department, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP).

“This settlement will help protect the community of Palmerton from exposure to harmful pollutants as well as hazardous waste,” said Larry Starfield, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “In particular, I am very pleased that the settlement will address fugitive emissions of lead dust that are posing a public health risk to families living as far as three miles away.”

“This settlement resulted from the commitment and hard work of EPA’s staff, who worked diligently with Justice Department attorneys and PADEP officials. The negotiated resolution protects the environment and public health of the surrounding community,” said Acting EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Diana Esher. “I am pleased that all parties were able to come to a settlement on such important issues.”

AZR is the corporate successor of Horsehead Corporation, which emerged from bankruptcy in September 2016. The AZR facility in Palmerton is located on Aquashicola Creek, which flows into the Lehigh River. The facility, which has operated for more than 100 years, reclaims zinc from electric arc furnace dust, a hazardous waste. The facility also generates waste kiln rubble, which includes hazardous lead and cadmium. Aboveground oil tanks at the facility have an aggregate 61,000-gallon storage capacity.  

This is the second time that the U.S. and Pennsylvania have jointly taken federal judicial enforcement action for violations at this facility. A 1995 consent decree addressed alleged air, water and hazardous waste violations for not complying with requirements for management of lead concentrate. The penalty in today’s settlement includes $500,000 in stipulated penalties that resolve violations of the 1995 consent decree.

At EPA’s request, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) evaluated nearby residents’ exposure to lead in the air. The ATSDR evaluation, released in July 2018, identified a public health concern regarding airborne lead within three miles of the facility, which was discussed with the community during a public meeting in Palmerton in early October 2018 conducted by EPA, ATSDR and PADEP.

“It is imperative that companies that have been issued operating permits follow the conditions in those permits,” said PADEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “That did not happen here. Compliance with permit requirements helps protect the health and safety of residents. “This consent decree is a significant step toward ensuring that operations at the American Zinc Recycling facility are conducted in accordance with applicable regulations and air, waste and water permits issued for the plant.”

In recent years, EPA and PADEP conducted joint inspections of the AZR facility and cooperated closely in evaluating environmental data. The complaint alleges violations of several environmental statutes, including:

  • Clean Air Act (CAA): violations of lead, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide emission limits; violations of fugitive dust emissions limits; violations of recordkeeping, reporting and testing requirements. 
  • Clean Water Act (CWA): violations of CWA permit discharge limits for cadmium pH, and zinc; discharge of contact cooling water; sampling and monitoring violations; violations of stormwater management safeguards, including failure to ensure process wastewater did not combine with stormwater; violations of Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) equipment, containment, inspection, training, and SPCC plan requirements.
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): violations of RCRA hazardous waste management and storage requirements, including operation without a permit; failure to take necessary steps to prevent release of hazardous waste, failure to conduct required training; and failure to comply with hazardous waste marking, labeling, container closure requirements.
  • Emergency Preparedness and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA): violations of toxic chemical recordkeeping and reporting requirements for lead compounds.

The $3.3 million penalty will be divided equally between the U.S. and Pennsylvania.

The settlement includes an estimated $4.3 million in injunctive relief to ensure compliance with environmental requirements. Some of these measures include improvements to monitoring of equipment, installing leak-detection equipment, implementing a dust control plan, and implementing a stormwater control plan.

The proposed consent decree, which is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval, is available for review at: https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees

For more information on this settlement: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/american-zing-recycling-corp-settlement

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