Baykeeper sues Oakland recycler whose plant caught fire last summer

From the end of a boardwalk that juts into Oakland’s Arrowhead Marsh, it can be hard to appreciate the fragility of this ecosystem. At low tide, native cordgrass and pickleweed brim with life, rustling, snapping and popping as they dry under the morning sun. California clapper rails dig their long beaks into the mudflats in search of small crustaceans. Above, bright white kestrels dart, periodically diving into the water and emerging with small, shining baitfish. Birdsong crescendos, sage fills the air and wildflowers accent backdrops of green and brown.

A few blocks away, just upstream on Elmhurst Creek, a wholly different scene unfolds. Behind tall chain-link fences and concrete walls, dozens of cars in various states of disrepair line a large recycling lot. Pick-n-Pull, a subsidiary of the global Radius Recycling company, collects junk cars and invites customers to dismantle them for parts. The process results in an accumulation of heavy metals, oil, grease and other potentially harmful materials on the property. According to advocacy group San Francisco Baykeeper, those materials are finding their way into Elmhurst Creek and Arrowhead Marsh.

In a federal lawsuit filed in February, Baykeeper alleged that Radius Recycling is violating the Clean Water Act by not properly mitigating the polluted stormwater runoff that comes from its properties in Oakland, Richmond, Newark and Fairfield. According to Baykeeper, tests show consistently high levels of lead, iron, aluminum, copper and other minerals at the Oakland Pick-n-Pull facility, along with high chemical oxygen demand — a measurement applied to the amount of oxidizable pollutants found in water. After a short trip in the Oakland sewer system and Elmhurst Creek, the runoff winds up at Arrowhead Marsh. 

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