OWEGO, N.Y.—Scrap metal entrepreneur Adam Weitsman reached a settlement agreement Tuesday with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) after being sued for not taking steps to control and lessen tons of harmful pollutants emitted from the metal shredder at his facility, Upstate Shredding.
Weitsman will pay a $400,000 fine to the agency according to federal court records filed this month in the Northern District of New York. He told The Ithaca Voice he has not paid the fine yet, and is waiting on instructions from the EPA for how to do so.
The U.S. Attorney General’s office filed the initial complaint against Upstate Shredding, LLC and Weitsman Shredding, LLC on July 13 of this year at the request of the EPA.
Weitsman was first notified of the violations two years ago, according to the complaint, as part of a blanket push from the EPA to regulate metal shredding companies in the U.S.
The Weitsman family currently owns and operates 15 facilities in central New York and Pennsylvania. In 2005, Weitsman acquired the company from his father Fred Weitsman following his retirement.
Weitsman grew up in Owego and the family operated two facilities in Ithaca that have closed. The Ben Weitsman’s steel service center opened in 1994 on Cherry Street. In 2013, the second location opened on the same street, when Upstate Shredding acquired Reamer Recycling, the largest scrap yard in the Finger Lakes at the time.
The Owego location was opened in 1996 by his father, and since then, Weitsman has expanded its capacity. In 2009, he installed the 122-inch “mega shredder,” that can “shred automobiles, trucks and motor blocks” at the rate of 450 tons per hour, according to the company website.
The amount of heat created from operating the metal shredder causes it to emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are the main components of smog, the atmospheric haze resulting from pollution, according to the complaint.
These compounds are harmful to the respiratory tract, cause nausea, and can damage the central nervous system and other organs.
The EPA estimated in the complaint that the facility’s metal shredder “has the potential to emit more than 50 tons per year of VOCs,” and without the required control equipment, the shredder exceeds 15 pounds of VOCs in just one day.
The complaint said that a company is required under the Clean Air Act and the New York State Implementation Plan (NYSIP) to implement “devices, systems, process modifications or other techniques” at its facilities to control the emission of VOCs if they have the potential to emit more than 50 tons of the compounds per year.
The facility is required to control 81% of emissions under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and NYSIP, as stated in the complaint. The EPA argued Weitsman has not taken proper steps to meet this requirement.
Weitsman said the technology will cost around $7 million total and will take at least a year and a half to manufacture after his team places an order in the next month. His team has another six months after the machine is finished to get it running in the facility in Owego.
The money he would have spent on legal proceedings in an attempt to evade EPA regulations, Weitsman said, will instead, “help pay for the equipment.” As part of the EPA agreement, Weitsman has two years to complete the installation process.
“I wanted to get the agreement done fast because I want it built and I want it done,” Weitsman said. “And I don’t want an adversarial relationship with a government agency.”
Weitsman noted that the agency agreed to pursue the minimum fine because he was cooperative and agreeable, and willing to follow the rules and regulations to keep the air and water upstate clean. He noted his company was “one of the first” in the county to reach an agreement with the EPA for unchecked emissions from metal shredders, which to him, also explains the lesser fine.
“The fine could have been huge,” Weitsman said. “If you look at the daily fine, it would have been monstrous.”
Before settling, as written in the complaint, the facility would have been responsible for damages up to $37,500 per day for each violation occurring after Jan. 12, 2009, the same year Weitsman installed the shredder, through Nov. 12, 2015. After the November date, fines would reach $117,468 per day for each violation.
Weitsman said the technology capable of meeting EPA’s requirements has become available to owners of metal shredding facilities like him “just recently,” and only through five separate companies who each individually manufacture different components of the technology.
The EPA requested information about the facility in a letter dated June 9, 2020, and received a reply in August from the company Plumley Engineering, a firm based in Baldwinsville, NY, contracted to consult other facilities and companies on behalf of Weitsman’s company.
Plumley Engineering reported to the EPA that Upstate Shredding had not completed any air emission calculations in 2018 or 2019 and “the only air emission control equipment or process controls owned and/or in operation for the shredder is a Smart Water System for dust emissions.”
Weitsman said in 2018 and 2019, testing and equipment of “this kind” were not required by the EPA.