Amicus Brief: Athletics v. California Department of Toxic Substances Control
When metal recyclers shred old cars, appliances, and other products containing metal, they generate “auto fluff,” a residue that can contain heavy metals like lead. Auto fluff is so toxic that it meets the threshold for hazardous waste under California law. But for decades, California law had a loophole for metal shredding facilities, which gave these facilities a free pass to generate hazardous waste without obeying the state’s commonsense protections to keep that waste from spreading into communities. Under-regulated and exposed to the elements, this hazardous waste blows into surrounding communities, contaminating air, soil, water, and our bodies. Metal shredder waste also has the potential to catch on fire, putting lives in immediate peril. Until this litigation, six metal shredders operated under this legal loophole, and in a telling example of environmental racism, all six facilities are sited in frontline environmental justice communities.
Schnitzer Steel, a metal shredder in Oakland, is one of these facilities. Data show how Schnitzer Steel releases heavy metals such as lead, zinc, cadmium, and copper into its surroundings—all of which are known to irreversibly damage human health and the environment.
In 2014, after years of pressure from the frontline communities most at risk from metal shredder pollution, California passed a bill that directed the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to establish more protective hazardous waste management standards for metal shredding facilities. But DTSC failed to implement the law, prompting a lawsuit by the Major League Baseball team, the Oakland Athletics, which alleged that the state has failed to protect local communities from harmful pollution from Schnitzer Steel. the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, Communities for a Better Environment, San Francisco Baykeeper, and NRDC filed an amicus brief* in support of the Oakland Athletics’ position in January 2021, calling on DTSC to properly regulate metal shredding facilities throughout the state.
In April 2021, in a resounding victory for environmental justice in California, the Superior Court ordered DTSC to implement the 2014 law. DTSC ended Schnitzer Steel’s special exemption from hazardous waste law shortly thereafter.
Unfortunately, in 2022, it became evident that DTSC has not fully implemented the court’s order to apply hazardous waste law at the facility—and the legal battle to force DTSC to fully implement the 2014 law continues. Schnitzer Steel’s appeal of the Superior Court ruling is pending in the First Appellate Division in California. The original amici, joined by additional amicus the Sierra Club, filed an amicus brief in the appellate court case in January 2022. While the appeal is pending, our coalition will continue to push DTSC to protect Californians from metal shredder pollution—once and for all.
*An amicus curiae (or “friend of the court”) brief is filed by a nonparty to the case to assist the court by offering information or expertise that has bearing on the issues before the court.
Case DocumentsAthletics v. DTSC Superior Court Amicus Brief (PDF) Athletics v. DTSC Appellate Court Amicus Brief (PDF)