West Oakland, CA — West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) is as horrified and angry as our neighbors at the fire that erupted yesterday at the Schnitzer Steel scrap metal facility in West Oakland, California. However, we are not surprised. WOEIP has been fighting for tighter regulation, stronger enforcement, and cleaner practices at Schnitzer Steel for as long as we’ve been neighbors.

Schnitzer Steel—which sits within one mile of more than a dozen daycare centers, eight schools, four senior housing facilities, 10 public parks, and two hospitals—is a notorious polluter with a long history of releasing toxins into a historically Black community already overburdened by industrial pollution. It has a decades-long history of Notices of Violation from multiple Federal and State agencies, including a lawsuit brought by the California State Attorney General that required Schnitzer to install emission control systems on the mega-shredder that reduces entire automobiles into fist-size chunks. Plastic, fabrics, steel, brass and copper are extruded into huge flammable piles to await sorting and export. These piles catch fire almost yearly. The owners of Schnitzer Steel say there is nothing they can do to avoid the fires. By their account, toxic fires in Oakland are actually part of their business model.

A massive cloud of thick gray smoke bellows from a huge pile of scrap metal waste along the Oakland waterfront.
A waste pile burns at Schnitzer Steel in West Oakland on Aug. 10, 2023. Image copyright @ArlenArlenArlen.

Schnitzer itself has stated that at any given time, 70,000-80,000 tons of material may be found in outdoor piles awaiting shredding, in addition to 300-500 tons of partially processed material and 350 tons of chemically-treated material. This is what our community is breathing this morning as the fire still smolders and pollutants hang in our air. 

The West Oakland community has had enough. WOEIP has been actively pushing to install on-site air monitors at the Schnitzer facility for years but continues to hit roadblocks. We urge local regulators, including the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, to classify Schnitzer’s toxic stockpiles as hazardous waste, something the company successfully lobbied against when fighting the Oakland A’s Howard Terminal. We fully support the Oakland City Council’s recent authorization of The Civil Protection Of The People Of Oakland Ordinance, which now gives the City Attorney the ability to bring civil action against polluters like Schnitzer Steel, and urge the City Attorney to seek action here. 

It is the people of color, who live in the flatlands, and our youth, elders, and sick, with their increased health risks from exposure to Schnitzer’s toxic emissions, who carry the disproportionate burden of this company’s profit-driven pollution. Yet, as Oakland and Alameda residents discovered overnight and this morning, we all breathe this air.

This is why the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project works with residents to push agencies and regulators for stricter controls and more just enforcement. It’s why we partner with local agencies, community organizations, engineers, and residents to bring cleaner infrastructure to West Oakland, such as indoor air filtration in residential housing facilities, like the one we recently installed at Saint Mary’s Center. But we cannot continue to clean up Schnitzer’s mess.

The City, State and Federal government must put a stop to this. And Schnitzer Steel must clean up its act—or get out of town.

About West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project

The West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) is a resident led, community-based environmental justice organization dedicated to achieving healthy homes, healthy jobs and healthy neighborhoods for all who live, work, learn and play in West Oakland, California. Using Collaborative Problem-Solving and Community-based Participatory Research, WOEIP empowers impacted residents with the understanding and tools needed to participate in the political, social, and natural forces that impact their lives, driving change from the bottom up.

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Page last updated Aug. 30, 2023.

Community resources

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Clean Up or Get Out Campaign

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Community Impact Survey

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Schnitzer Steel Fact Sheet