PALMERTON, CARBON COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — American Zinc Recycling Corp. (AZR), a local recycling plant dealing with steel production waste has reached a settlement with the federal government after being cited for environmental violations.

A federal-state lawsuit claimed the company was violating air, water and hazardous waste environmental laws at their Palmerton facility. This lawsuit has now been settled for an estimated $4.3 million in penalties and measures meant to reduce lead dust exposure for nearby residents.

“This settlement will help protect the community of Palmerton from exposure to harmful pollutants as well as hazardous waste,” Larry Starfield, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said in a statement. “In particular, I am very pleased that the settlement will address fugitive emissions of lead dust that are posing a public health risk to families living as far as three miles away.”

As part of the settlement agreement, AZR has agreed to reduce pollution from their facility including an estimated 48 million pounds of electric arc furnace dust over three years. Improval of their environmental impact will be done through monitoring of equipment, the installation of leak-detection equipment and implementation of dust and stormwater control plans. The company will also pay a $3.3 million penalty which will be divided equally between the U.S. and Pennsylvania.

“This settlement resulted from the commitment and hard work of EPA’s staff, who worked diligently with Justice Department attorneys and PADEP officials. The negotiated resolution protects the environment and public health of the surrounding community,” Acting EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Diana Esher said in a statement. “I am pleased that all parties were able to come to a settlement on such important issues.”

According to the DEP media release, AZR is located on the Aquashicola Creek, which flows into the Lehigh River. The plant has been operating for more than 100 years, reclaiming hazardous waste but generating kiln rubble which includes lead.  

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry evaluated nearby residents’ airborne lead exposure. The agency found that lead was a public health concern for those living within a three-mile radius of the facility. This was discussed with the community during a public meeting in 2018.

The EPA and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued complaints against AZR following the inspection of the plant. Their findings allege multiple violations including those of the:

  • Clean Air Act (CAA): violations of lead, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide emission limits; violations of fugitive dust emissions limits; violations of recordkeeping, reporting and testing requirements. 
  • Clean Water Act (CWA): violations of CWA permit discharge limits for cadmium pH, and zinc; discharge of contact cooling water; sampling and monitoring violations; violations of stormwater management safeguards, including failure to ensure process wastewater did not combine with stormwater; violations of Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) equipment, containment, inspection, training, and SPCC plan requirements.
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): violations of RCRA hazardous waste management and storage requirements, including operation without a permit; failure to take necessary steps to prevent release of hazardous waste, failure to conduct required training; and failure to comply with hazardous waste marking, labeling, container closure requirements.
  • Emergency Preparedness and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA): violations of toxic chemical recordkeeping and reporting requirements for lead compounds.

As part of the settlement, AZR does not admit to any wrongdoing. The company previously settled a similar suit for their facility in Chicago in April of 2020.

Eyewitness News has reached out to the company for comment. As of this writing, we have not heard back.