By Alexander Tuerk
Special to The Sentinel
CHEVERLY – Cheverly Mayor Laila Riazi brought reports of water pollution at a local scrapyard to the attention of the council and public at a town meeting on Aug. 8, as the town debates approval of the yard’s construction permit.
The April and July Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) inspection results of the Joseph Smith and Sons Inc. scrapyard in Capitol Heights shed light on safety standard violations and pollution into Beaver Dam Creek, a major tributary of the Anacostia River.
Joseph Smith and Sons submitted an Air Quality Permit to Construct Application on May 1, 2018, to build a hammermill, a ball mill, aluminum processing facilities and other screening operations.
This permit was considered in a public hearing in Cheverly on May 15. According to Riazi, Cheverly registered itself as an interested party, given the scrapyard’s close location on Kenilworth Avenue, and was offered comments on the permit process since.
The permit Joseph Smith and Sons applied for is an after-the-fact permit to construct several sorting processes and ensure they comply with air pollution standards, even though the installations are already built and operating.
According to the MDE’s tentative determination on this permit, the screening operations and the aluminum process was installed in 2013, and the other three items of equipment were installed between 2014 and 2017.
Of the 121-page agenda submitted for the meeting, almost 98 pages were dedicated to sample studies, in-person inspections, and photos of the scrapyard’s violations.
“I want for you to take the time, look at the photos and read the results relating to the water quality and the compliance issues and discharge violations related to Joseph Smith and Sons’ operation,” Riazi said.
According to their website, Joseph Smith and Sons takes scrap from the “general public, tow companies, salvage yards, and construction and demolition companies,” processes the valuable metals and sells it back as a “clean and mill-ready product.” The scrapyard, a 10-minute drive from the center of Cheverly, is owned by EMR Smith Industries, LLC, and an international holding company. Joseph Smith and Sons could not be reached for comment at the time of publishing.
“I am not looking to put Joseph Smith and Sons out of business, I want them to do well,” Riazi said. In a later interview, Riazi said she disagreed with the animosity between conservation and business.
“We have to jump our collective tires out of the rut of having these things in opposition,” Riazi said. “We need good industrial and commercial partners that focus on strong environmental practices.”
However, recent inspections from MDE that took place on April 16 and July 15 determined that the scrap processing facility was in noncompliance with state regulations regarding general industrial stormwater and other runoff.
“We’re talking about a history of a lack of trust that has developed between Joseph Smith and Sons and surrounding communities beyond that of Cheverly,” Riazi said.
The April 16 report enclosed in the agenda found issues such as an electrical shed leaking “black and grey liquid” into Beaver Dam Creek, unused parts stacked against or on top of a containment dike, standing water leaking “solids/sludge” beyond the dike into the creek and drums of oil stacked without cover outside. MDE, therefore, determined that the site was in violation of Title 9 of the Environmental Article of state law, calling for another inspection and immediate changes.
The follow-up inspection on July 15 found that most of the leaks had been cleaned and the corresponding infrastructure repaired, but there were still locations where toxic runoff had access to Beaver Dam Creek. A concrete berm that had been observed as collapsed in the previous inspection was still damaged, and the nearby railroad bed was “still covered with a significant amount of scrap metal.”
The July 15 inspection continued to hold the scrapyard in violation of state law, including failures to document and conduct inspections of stormwater runoff. Another inspection is scheduled for around Aug.15, according to the MDE report.
The MDE’s tentative determination, given the scrapyard’s compliance with air pollution standards, is to approve the air quality permit to construct, which Riazi also said is likely. However, she said she saw the two forms of pollution, air and water, as fundamentally linked at the scrapyard.
“If everything that they’re going for is based off of a wet process, then you really can’t move forward with that air quality permit to construct when you have so many underlying violations of water quality associated with the site,” Riazi said.
The MDE has extended the comment period on the permit to Aug. 19, but the final decision will be made by the state given Cheverly’s limited role as an interested party.
“We can’t let this go forward without the behavior being corrected,” Riazi said, “so that we are safe and our water is safe.” However, she said she acknowledged there are issues with using water pollution evidence to determine the outcome of an air quality permit.
“Legally, it may be tough to thread this needle.”