Scrap metal company agrees to settle illegal stormwater pollution allegations

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office recently announced a settlement after an investigation of a scrap metal processor company.
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 6:15 PM EDT|Updated: May. 24, 2022 at 6:58 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office recently announced a settlement after an investigation of a scrap metal processor company. According to the attorney general’s report, the scrap metal company, Joseph Freedman, allegedly illegally polluted the Chicopee River and Springfield’s storm drain system.

Joseph Freedman Company Incorporated, the largest privately-owned scrap metal processor in New England, recently popped up on the radar of Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.

“This came to my office as a result of receiving some reports and, as we always do, we did an investigation and we actually learned that over years, this company’s own storm water sample showed that for a long, long time, it had been discharging this storm water with illegal levels of pollutants,” Healey said.

According to the attorney general’s complaint, Freedman Company, located in Springfield, allegedly violated the federal Clean Water Act when it illegally discharged polluted industrial stormwater from its facility through the Springfield municipal storm drain system and into Poor Brook, a tributary of the Chicopee River.

We reached out to the owner of Joseph Freedman Company. The company’s attorney released a statement that read, in part:

“Improving our stormwater discharges is an essential part of that commitment, and as the consent decree itself notes, Freedman has already eliminated all storm water discharges flowing down the ramp located on the southern edge of the facility. While we disagree with the assertions made by the attorney general in her complaint, we recognize that, like everyone else in the metals industry that deals with dissolved metals measured in the parts per million, we must continue to do better. We have agreed to make significant improvements to our storm water treatment systems, far beyond that which would be required under the applicable regulations.”

Healey told Western Mass News that Freedman has a legal obligation to control their stormwater.

“This is a situation, where a company was allowing the rain, the snow, the stormwater to run through their property, to pick up the dangerous heavy metals and to have those run right off and to discharge into the river and that is illegal,” Healey added.

The attorney general’s complaint shows the levels of pollutants including heavy metals that were being discharged into the river were significantly higher than what is allowed under the permit, including lead, aluminum, iron, copper, and zinc

A chart in the complaint lists how the presence of pollutants in Freedman’s stormwater discharges routinely exceeded EPA’s benchmark limits. For example, in March 2019, the water discharged contained 23,684 percent more cooper than the EPA’s benchmark. Those discharges also exceeded the EPA benchmarks in September 2020 and in June 2021.

We checked in with the Environmental Protection Agency to find out how the agency regulates limits on pollution. They sent Western Mass News a statement that read, in part:

“The Joseph Freedman Company’s stormwater is regulated under a “multi-sector general permit”, which is a permit that outlines stormwater controls and limits on pollution that apply to many different facilities. This general permit requires each permittee to self-monitor, report quarterly data, and implement corrective actions if and when pollutants are detected above certain benchmark concentration values.”

The attorney general’s complaint states Freedman failed to consistently submit benchmark monitoring to the EPA. We asked the EPA what happens if the company does not report the data and they said “failure to report as required is ultimately a violation of the Clean Water Act which could subject the facility to penalties or injunctive relief.”

We wanted to know what this type of pollution would do to the environment, so we took our questions to Dr. David Reckhow, a research professor at UMass Amherst’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering studying mostly water contaminants. We brought the chart presented in the complaint against Freedman to Reckhow.

“All of these contaminants have health impacts to humans, impacts to aquatic life, adverse impacts,” Reckhow said.

These contaminants, however, are not affecting the drinking water supply, the AG’s office confirmed, but the environment is heavily impacted by these pollutants, especially the fish that call the river home.

“Copper is an essential nutrient at low levels, but if you have it at higher levels, it becomes a problem and it becomes toxic…That has all types of ramifications to the health of the aquatic organism, the health of a human too,” Reckhow added.

Reckhow said one of the pollutants, chemical oxygen demand, if ingested, could cause a large number of fish to die or not reproduce.

“When it biodegrades, it consumes oxygen and so it starves the water of the oxygen and starves the fish from oxygen and they can die,” Reckhow explained.

Now, the attorney general did reach a settlement with the company. Within the consent decree, they have agreed to pay a fine of $115,000 dollars to fund water quality and health equity projects. They’ve also committed to making system improvements to prevent any further damage.