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A five-alarm fire started on March 12, 2018 at an auto dismantler called NW Metals in northeast Portland. The fire destroyed several nearby homes and created billowing black smoke that prompted evacuation orders in the Cully neighborhood. 
March 12, 2018 scrap yard fire smoke over Portland
Photo courtesy of Multnomah County 
 
The Environmental Protection Agency collected real-time air quality data during the incident that informed decisions by local health authorities.
 
A team of DEQ representatives from multiple environmental programs visited the site on March 14 to begin environmental investigations and determine next steps for cleaning up the property.

 

Updates

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality obtained a Temporary Restraining Order against NW Metals, which requires it to correct the violations at the site through the steps described below.
 
Since the NW Metals fire in March 2018, DEQ has attempted through various informal and formal enforcement pathways to get NW Metals into regulatory compliance. NW Metals has challenged DEQ requirements and penalties, all of which have been upheld in court.
Sufficient progress towards compliance has not been made and NW Metals continues to pose a threat to public and environmental health and safety.
 
By obtaining the order, the Multnomah County district Court can compel NW Metals to comply with DEQ’s Removal Action Order immediately. Compliance would ensure that the facility follows DEQ’s order and the actions described below to ensure there is no further impact to the environment or public health.
 
DEQ also filed a civil complaint in District court which asks the court to, require NW Metals to do all of the above but also to:
 
  • Immediately cease shredding waste tires
  • Store all tires in accordance with standards within 10 days
  • Cease operations of prohibited underground injection systems within 10 days
  • Submit an air quality permit application for all shredders within 10 days
  • Implement the work plan and submit documentation to DEQ demonstrating completion within 20 days
  • Submit a plan to DEQ for approval demonstrating how storm water runoff will be contained within 10 days and implement that plan within 30 days of approval
  • Reimburse DEQ for its “remedial action costs” incurred to respond the disaster at the NW Metals site
 
If NW Metals fails to comply with the requirements outlined above, the operator will be found in contempt of court, which could result in jail time.
DEQ continues to pursue enforcement with NW Metals subsequent to the significant fire in March 2018 that impacted the surrounding neighborhoods.
 
In May 2019, DEQ presented its case to an Administrative Law Judge in a contested case hearing. During this hearing DEQ asked the judge to uphold the formal enforcement action assessing civil penalties for violations of state laws regarding drywells, hazardous waste management, waste tire storage, the discharge of air contaminants and for failing to meet deadlines in the cleanup order DEQ issued. DEQ also asked the judge to issue a final order requiring corrective actions at the NW Metals site, including managing tires and stormwater in accordance with state laws, closing out the drywells in order to protect groundwater in the area, submitting an application for an air quality permit and complying with DEQ’s cleanup order.
 
On Aug. 29, DEQ received a decision from the Administrative Law Judge upholding DEQ’s violations. NW Metals has appealed the decision to the Environmental Quality Commission. DEQ continues to monitor activities at the site.
Recent DEQ actions regarding NW Metals:
  • Required NW Metals to prevent stormwater from entering drywells on the site: Recent DEQ inspections indicate the site’s drywells, also called underground injection control devices, are temporarily sealed and that stormwater is no longer entering them. However, NW Metals has not yet submitted a proposed stormwater management plan to DEQ and the facility is still out of compliance with the enforcement order DEQ issued on Aug. 30, 2018.
  • Cited NW Metals and FHA Holdings for additional violations of Oregon law: DEQ issued an amended enforcement notice on Dec. 3, 2018, citing NW Metals for failing to apply for an air quality permit for its shredder and for failing to implement the cleanup work as required by the order DEQ issued on March 28, 2018. The additional violations increase NW Metals’ total civil penalty to $77,419. DEQ also amended the enforcement notice for the property owner, FHA Holdings, and increased its total civil penalty to $43,954. NW Metals and FHA Holdings appealed the initial violations, and DEQ has referred the case to Oregon’s Office of Administrative Hearings for a contested case hearing.
  • Oversaw cleanup and sampling activities: DEQ oversaw sampling and conducted a preliminary review of contamination at two residential properties adjacent to NW Metals, as well as of the drywells on the NW Metals site. Initial sampling results are summarized as follows:
    • Soil samples from the two neighboring residential properties showed levels of contaminants either considered typical for urban soil or below “residential risk-based levels,” which are set to be protective of people who might live on the properties. Since these two properties are directly adjacent to NW Metals and were at the epicenter of the March 12 fire, DEQ would expect levels of fire-related contamination to be even lower in other areas of the Cully neighborhood.
    • Samples of solids from the drywells showed levels of contamination either considered typical for an urban environment or below “occupational risk-based levels,” which are levels meant to protect people who might be working on the site.
    • The results from both the adjacent properties and the drywells suggest that environmental impacts from industrial and fire activities on the site may be relatively limited. However, additional data is needed to confirm this preliminary review.
    • DEQ’s cleanup coordinator conducted a site inspection on November 29, 2018. DEQ confirmed NW Metals’ shredder equipment is operational and has made some progress shredding burnt cars for recycling. NW Metals still needs to remove cars and debris before on-site soil sampling can be completed. DEQ will continue overseeing work at the site until all cleanup requirements are complete.
  • Consulted with the City of Portland concerning environmental and health risks at the site and potential steps to address risks. DEQ will continue acting to address current and potential future risks at this site and assure that NW Metals operates in full compliance with environmental laws.
DEQ is pursuing formal enforcement action against NW Metals for a variety of environmental violations, including improper waste tire storage and stormwater management. NW Metals appealed the civil penalty DEQ issued on August 30. DEQ submitted the case to schedule a hearing with Oregon’s Office of Administrative Hearings to obtain a final, enforceable order. The date for this hearing is pending as of October 2018.
 
DEQ conducted a joint inspection of NW Metals with Portland Fire and Rescue and Bureau of Development Services on Oct. 2, 2018. DEQ confirmed NW Metals has made some progress but is still behind schedule on required cleanup activities and remains out of compliance with environmental laws. DEQ will continue overseeing work at the site until all cleanup requirements are complete.
DEQ ordered NW Metals to take the following specific actions:
  • Manage waste tires: NW Metals must either remove waste tires from the property or meet DEQ requirements for properly managing tire piles. NW Metals must also apply for a waste tire permit if it stores more than 1,500 waste tires. The company has until Oct. 1 to complete this order.
  • Manage stormwater: NW Metals must stop allowing stormwater to enter drywells, known as underground injection control devises, and submit a plan to DEQ that describes how the company will manage stormwater at the facility. Deadline for submitting the plan is Oct. 1.
  • Obtain an air quality permit: NW Metals operates a piece of equipment called a shredder that cuts apart cars and other materials so they can be recycled. NW Metals must apply for an air quality permit to install and operate the shredder. While the permit application is underway, NW Metals is allowed to operate the shredder in accordance with the cleanup order.
  • Complete timely cleanup: NW Metals has completed some requirements of DEQ’s cleanup order, but hasn’t met all requirements. NW Metals must clear all cars, tires and other materials from the site by Sept. 7 and complete soil sample collection by Sept. 14. Find more information in the warning letter DEQ issued on Aug. 21.
DEQ approved the cleanup work plan for NW Metals on July 12. Cleanup work will be performed under DEQ oversight until all activity described in the cleanup order is complete.