Stormwater Regulations Tighten For Recyclers
By: Mike Breslin

Rarely has there been a more vexing subject as stormwater runoff regulations as they apply to the recyclers of scrap metals and automobiles. Researching federal, state and local regulations is a tedious task, often resulting in more confusion than enlightenment. Many scrap metal recyclers are also bewildered and concerned about the growing complexity of government regulations, potential violations and attending penalties.

Even though federally adopted stormwater regulations are part of a national program required under the Clean Water Act, implementation can differ from state to state.

New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) is in the process of implementing new stormwater regulations. The ongoing imposition of these regulations on the metal and automobile recycling industry can represent new regulatory and administrative burdens, and more out-of-pocket costs on owners of scrap metal and vehicle recycling operations that must be addressed and cannot be ignored.

Scrap metal and automotive recyclers handle a wide and complex variety of hazardous substances that could potentially trickle down from stormwater runoff and contaminate drinking water or pollute rivers, lakes and oceans.

But since cars and trucks are the number one recycled product in the U.S., the exposure for the scrap metal dealer and automotive recycler is substantial. About 8 million cars and 5 million trucks are recycled every year by over 7,000 auto recycling companies nationwide.

One of the primary threats to the environment is polluted stormwater runoff resulting from the mishandling of metals and vehicular fluids such as gasoline, diesel fuel, motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, mineral spirits, washer fluid, gear oil and grease. In addition, there are other hazardous wastes in vehicles that could contaminate water like mercury from electrical devices, batteries, refrigerants, asbestos and PCBs. 
Automotive recyclers are mostly small businesses and often have environmental compliance problems that fall within EPA’s authority under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. These regulations are administered primarily by state environmental protection agencies and local authorities.

The Federal Clean Water Act does not directly address groundwater contamination, but groundwater protection provisions are included in the Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Superfund Act. Remember, automotive and metal recycling went on for nearly 100 years before the Clean Water Act in 1972 and groundwater regulations at federal, state and local levels took decades to evolve as specific requirements, becoming increasingly complex, requiring permits, and subject to enforcement and fines.

It all starts with the U.S. EPA’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) because polluted stormwater runoff is commonly transported through municipal stormwater sewer systems or, discharged untreated directly  into local bodies of water. To prevent harmful pollutants from being washed or dumped into local waters, municipalities and regulated industries must obtain a NPDES permit and develop a stormwater management program to reduce contamination and prohibit illicit discharges.

NJDEP is the delegated issuing authority for NPDES permits in the state. A New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) discharge permit is required for defined industrial activities and for municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4) owned and operated by municipalities. A NJPDES permit may also be required for any point or non-point source discharge if NJDEP determines that it contributes to a violation of water quality standards or is identified as a significant contributor of pollutants.

There are approximately 7,500 NPDES MS4 permits in the U.S. covering large, medium, and small cities. Five hundred and sixty-six of them are in New Jersey. Then, of course, there are salvage businesses within cities and towns that have municipal stormwater systems, but are not served by them. And, there is the vast area of America not serviced by any stormwater sewer systems at all, but may be covered by regulations enforced by state and local jurisdictions.

Federal regulation requires a permit for all scrap recycling facilities. EPA issues its Multisector (MSGP) permit to regulated industries in non-delegated states. NJDEP issues industry specific general permits, individual permits, and a basic industrial general permit to its regulated industries. For the automotive and metal scrap recycling industry, New Jersey issues its Automobile Recycling General Permit (RVR) and the Scrap Metal Recycling General Permit (SM2), respectively. Individual permits are issued for metal recyclers that engage in shredding operations.

According to Julia Q. Ortiz, a press officer at U.S. EPA, “EPA’s MSGP contains requirements relating to controlling pollutants in stormwater discharges that all facilities must comply with. These include: minimizing exposure of industrial activities to stormwater; good housekeeping; conducting regular maintenance of stormwater controls and equipment; having spill prevention and response procedures; erosion and sediment controls; runoff management; salt storage piles pollutant minimization; employee training, waste elimination of non-stormwater discharges and dust generation, and vehicle tracking. In addition, inspections and assessments must also be regularly done. Stormwater pollution prevention plans must be revised when necessary and compliance with all requirements must be documented.”

Under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, amended by the Clean Water Act and the Water Quality Act, a facility with stormwater discharge associated with industrial activity must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. In 1990, the U.S. EPA published the regulatory definition for “stormwater discharges associated with industrial activity,” which were adopted in the NJPDEP 

New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection is issuing authority for NPDES permits in the state. A discharge permit may be required if NJDEP determines a point or non-point source discharge contributes to a violation of water quality standards or is identified as a significant contributor of pollutants.

First issued in 1995 and updated subsequently, the New Jersey Scrap Metal general permit was initially issued and authorized the discharge of stormwater to surface water for facilities that engage in Standard Industrial Classification, SIC Code 5015 for used motor vehicle parts and SIC Code 5093 for scrap and waste materials.

Permit effluent limitations, monitoring requirements, Best Management Practices (BMPs) and other conditions are federally authorized and implemented, administered, and enforced by NJDEP through its NJPDES permit program.

James Murphy, chief of the NJDEP bureau of non-point pollution control explained the state’s new Stormwater Management (SM2) regulations that took effect October 1, 2013. “Our new scrap metal permit, SM2, covers scrap facilities that engage in scrap metal recycling with or without vehicle recycling, but the DEP does have a separate vehicle recycling permit for those sites that engage only in vehicle recycling. We also have five or six facilities out there that handle scrap metal, plus shredding. Those facilities will get separate individual permits in the near future. The SM2 permit requires an initial stormwater drainage control plan which has to be submitted by October 1, 2014 and a final drainage control plan that must be submitted by October 1, 2015.

Under the permit there are water sampling requirements. Our enforcement field offices may conduct monitoring as part of their inspections, but the permit will require quarterly monitoring of the effluent by the permitee. The results of that monitoring must be put on Discharge Monitoring Reports, or DMRs, that must be submitted quarterly and are reviewed by NJDEP Enforcement as part of the permit compliance assessment.”

“We have been working with the industry group trying to come up with a permit that the industry is satisfied with. So there’s been a lot of negotiation, giving them an opportunity to the make changes to this new version of the permit,” Murphy concluded.

Brian McLendon, supervisor of the industrial stormwater discharge permit unit at NJDEP elaborated on the new regulations. “Scrap metal dealers will have to identify and account for all of their stormwater runoff, meaning it has to be discharged to a regulated discharge point or points. There is a specific Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SPPP) that has to be implemented throughout the yard at different areas such as material handling and storage, and so on. And, these areas have to be monitored to benchmark criteria.

“It has to be monitored whether or not it’s going to be discharged to groundwater or into a municipal stormwater system. If they are parking unprocessed vehicles that have been drained of fluids on crushed stone that may be okay, but if they are crushing cars they would have to do that on a pad. In New Jersey, as compared to other states, we do regulate the discharge to groundwater as well as surface water. The federal program is limited to surface water, only. In New Jersey, we have a robust groundwater program and we want to assure that discharges are not being shifted from surface water to groundwater.”

An environmental engineer at NJDEP, Shashi Nayak, outlined some of the technical requirements for SM2 permits. “For the initial drainage control map, an owner can prepare it themselves using our guidelines or call on an engineer, but for the final drainage control map they have to have it certified by a licensed professional engineer. The quarterly stormwater testing will begin on October 1, 2015. On a quarterly basis, the owner of the facility has to collect stormwater samples and send them to a New Jersey designated state-certified laboratory for testing. It’s paid for by the owner. We’re looking at a couple hundred dollars, quarterly, to get each test done. In addition, PCBs must be tested annually.”

Water test results will reveal chemical oxygen demand, total petroleum hydrocarbons, and total recoverable aluminum, lead, zinc and iron. Currently, the annual fee for general scrap permit is $2,300. An individual permit for a shredder is $4,100 annually. Under New Jersey’s Water Pollution Control Act, the range of civil administrative penalties can range from $2,500 for minor violations up to $40,000 for major offenses.

John Kitchens, vice president of Iron Ax, said no other system comes close to his company’s Enviro Rack, an advanced auto fluid removal and dismantling system, in meeting EPA and state regulations concerning fluid removal and preventing fluids from entering stormwater.

“Over the years we have dealt with a lot of different people that were having problems with local, state or EPA officials. From my experience most owners want to be compliant with laws concerning groundwater contamination but for a variety of reasons a lot of them aren’t. I think most owners have good intentions when it comes to keeping oil and gas off of the ground,” said Kitchens.

“A lot of owners I have spoken with think the laws are unreasonable and local laws seem to vary a lot from one municipality to another. Compliance with local, state and EPA regulations is a must if you are going to stay in business, but I think for many owners it is out of sight out of mind, meaning that they are not overly concerned about it until they get inspected.”

Kitchens reported that some yards get inspected very often and some almost never get inspected. He has spoken with many owners that have never been inspected, but it seems that if a yard is inspected and violations are found they can be assured of future inspections. A good initial inspection will greatly reduce the chances of having more frequent inspections. Most inspectors like to move on to other yards that are having problems.

“I don’t have specific numbers concerning fines, but I have had customers tell me that they have been significant,” Kitchens continued. “Not only do they have to deal with the EPA concerning the fine, but they have to pay for the cleanup. A lot of times they can negotiate with the EPA concerning the amount of the fine, but they are not usually in a position to make a good deal with the company hired to do the cleanup. In most cases the soil will have to be removed and tested until no contaminates are found. This can be very costly and unnerving, and it is all preventable. Purchasing a professionally produced fluid removal system is the best investment an owner can make. He is keeping his property clean, and he will keep the inspectors happy.”

Frank Lobascio, managing partner at Armor Metals & Recycling in Pennsauken, New Jersey, voiced his experience with NJDEP regarding his 6.5 acre facility that employs 16 workers. “We didn’t have to get the original stormwater permit because when we purchased the business that had already been done. Some of our stormwater runs into the Pennsauken municipal system, but not our metal handling area which is mostly number-one prepared and unprepared plate and structural light iron. All other metals are brought indoors. Our outdoor metal handling area was specially designed as a self-sustaining stormwater system. It’s paved with crushed stone in the ground to absorb stormwater.”

“NJDEP is coming again this spring for an inspection of our stormwater runoff,” Lobascio continued. “They are very tough on that. As we’ve gone along we’ve made sure to keep up with what needs to be done. NJDEP has already done one inspection, but it was inconclusive because we are in the process of changing property ownership. Because of a change of ownership we’ve already gone through Phase 1 and 2 permitting. All they found on different parts of our property was arsenic from years ago because this was all farmland and arsenic was contained in pesticides. They’ve found arsenic on all the properties around here.”

“You know how the government is. You never know when they are going to wake up with a new idea. Anybody who sets up a business in this state is insane. I’m talking about any kind of business. I rent out properties for all different kinds of business. It’s getting to the point where, who wants to go through this? Then, there are the fines that you can incur. Every day you are afraid to open up an envelope from the government. You are trying to do the right thing but they are making so many different laws in so many different directions, you can’t keep up. I’m afraid to even think about the potential size of fines if they do find something.”

There’s no question that more complex and demanding stormwater regulations mean more work and increased costs for metal and auto recyclers, especially smaller businesses with strained personnel or cash reserves to deal with these issues. It appears to be a case of if we want clean water; we have to pay the price as a society, or even a greater price if a scrap metal or auto recycler, considering the high costs of compliance, fines and remediation.

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