In Short

Aluminum recycling facility pleads guilty, paying $550,000 for hazardous emissions

By: - January 25, 2023 3:46 pm
air emissions

Under the Clean Air Act, factories are not allowed to release hazardous emissions. (Courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency)

UPDATED: Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023 at 10 a.m. to include comment from U.S. Attorney’s Office.

An Illinois-based company has pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Air Act at an aluminum-processing facility in The Dalles.

Hydro Extrusion USA released hazardous smoke from the facility from July 2018 through June 2019, endangering employees and the nearby community, according to a release on Wednesday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland. 

The facility melts aluminum for resale. Documents from the case, originally filed last August by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in U.S. District Court in Portland, show that the smoke came from burning materials with a coating, causing hazardous smoke to be emitted when it was melted. The facility did not install devices to prevent the pollution, court documents said. 

By law, the facility is only allowed to burn “clean charge” materials that are not painted and don’t have other coatings or lubricants on them which can cause hazardous emissions in violation of the Clean Air Act. 

The attorney’s office said the facility saved nearly $470,000 dollars in buying the coated scrap material. 

“By illegally melting contaminated scrap metal, the defendant knowingly and unlawfully violated environmental regulations and in doing so exposed their workers and the local community to hazardous air pollutants,” Scot Adair, special agent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal investigation program in Oregon, said in a statement. “EPA, along with its state partners, are committed to holding companies accountable when they endanger the health of their employees and local communities.”

The court records show that employees noticed the smoke. The company was notified by EPA inspectors and officials from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which enforces the Clean Air Act in Oregon, but Hydro continued melting the coated material, court records show. It also mixed in the coated scrap with uncoated material but that didn’t stop the pollution.

In January, lawyers for Charles Straface, the business unit president of Hydro, told the court in a filing that the company was guilty and entered a plea agreement with prosecutors who charged it with one count of negligent endangerment. Hydro has agreed to pay about $550,000 prior to sentencing. The maximum sentence for the offense is $200,000 or twice the company’s gross gains or losses from the offense.

The court has set a sentencing date for April 24.

This is the only clean air case prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon in the past five years, according to Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for office. But 25 companies have faced formal enforcement action in Oregon over the past five years for violations of the Clean Air Act, accrding to the EPA. Only five were found to have committed a “high priority violation.” They are:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement it will continue to prosecute air emission violations.

“We will continue working closely with our partners at the EPA to ensure all businesses play by the rules,” said Ethan Knight, chief of the economic crimes unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

 

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry, who has more than 30 years of journalism experience, is Oregon Capital Chronicle's editor-in-chief. She previously was editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site; reported on health in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio.

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