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November 2006

Iowa to Illinois – hazardous waste is crossing the border

“We can’t compete with the illegals,” Vladimir Bydzovsky of JR’s Appliance Demanufacturing said.

Ron Myrick of Midwest Recycling said, “Scrappers have been grabbing the stuff and running across the river.”

The problem is white goods crossing the border from Iowa to Illinois. “They’re not that strict,” Mike Weikert of Weikert Iron and Metal said of Iowa’s regulations, “it’s just that Illinois is wide open.”

In Iowa, white goods must be “demanufactured” by companies with state appliance demanufacture permits. These companies, called ADPs, are supposed to remove and dispose of the hazardous material before the metal is recycled.

Myrick said, “It kind of kills us” that Illinois scrap yards are paying for Iowa appliances. “I’ve lost good accounts because I have to charge.”

On the Illinois side of the border, “You don’t need any type of permit for recycling,” James Jones, an inspector in Illinois for the Bureau of Land said. “Scrap yards have to have someone qualified to remove the white good components.”

Jones inspected two Illinois scrap yards after the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) filed a complaint with the Illinois EPA about those yards.

In correspondence regarding that complaint, Kurt Levetzow at the Iowa DNR wrote, “A lot of the permitted folks are telling me that there are tons of “alley runners” picking up appliances and hauling them into Illinois where the salvage yards are paying for the appliances. The numbers don’t work out if this is the case. They absolutely can’t be demanufacturing them, paying to dispose of the waste (mercury, PCB’s and Freon), because the money they get for salvaging doesn’t offset the cost of the haz waste disposal.”

Jones said, “I had them run me through their procedures the way they said they run their operation.” He said that both management and personnel “on the ground” had the same information about their procedures for inspecting incoming appliances. “We’ve got our requirements and all the folks have to do is follow the requirements.”

White goods trucked to Illinois for disposal. Levetzow had different information from ADPs in his area. He said, “A couple of facilities in Illinois are known to pay for refrigerators and tell the haulers, ‘don’t worry about the Freon, we don’t pull it out.’”

“It’s the same river, the same air,” Myrick said, a concern that was echoed by other Iowa scrap dealers.

Several mentioned the hazards of sodium chromate, a chemical in ammonia box cooling systems. “One out of every 50 appliances might have sodium chromate,” Levetzow said.

Bydzovsky isn’t only blaming Illinois – he has issues with the Iowa DNR, the EPA and fellow Iowa scrap dealers. “I’ve been fighting these people for 10 years,” he said. “Ten years ago, nobody was doing recycling.”

Levetzow confirmed Bydzovsky’s involvement. He said that when the permitting process began in 2002. “JR’s invited the department in for training.”

But Bydzovsky has gone beyond training. He has spoken to legislators and reported fellow ADPs to the EPA. He has compiled a mountain of paperwork, including copies of annual reports from other ADPs.

Levetzow said that he’s seen the reports, and that while he couldn’t speak to the situation in other areas, there was one ADP in his district that reported no hazardous waste. At an on-site inspection, the ADP produced receipts for the hazardous waste shipments. Levetzow said, “He said, ‘I guess I didn’t do it right.’ Everybody screws up once in a while.”

Weikert said, “The DNR checks us – we’re paying to get rid of all that stuff …we have to send them our records once a year…” But even though they check, “I don’t think they’re tough enough on coming down and checking…but the budget only goes so far.”

Levetzow said that with recent budget cuts, his yearly inspections of ADPs have been cut to once every three years.

Another issue Bydzovsky brought up were appliances coming back into Iowa in the form of baled or shredded scrap that is getting processed further in Iowa.

Levetzow said that the scrap processors and foundries in Iowa “are not supposed to accept appliances, baled or unbaled, unless they come from an Iowa permitted demanufacturer. The problem is how to catch this.”

One Iowa scrap dealer admitted that while he would prefer to be one hundred percent compliant, “sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to stay in business.”

Myrick said that one of the problems is that the stores that sell appliances will take back the used ones, charge the customers a fee for recycling, and then simply leave the appliances in back of the store where they are “stolen”.

Bydzovsky said, “Go to any border town 10-20 miles inside Iowa, and they are picking up at the stores because the illegals can pick it up for free. Retail stores charge consumers to recycle appliances, these illegals collect them and go to Illinois and they’re just shredding them all.”

Dave Walter from the Illinois EPA said that scrap dealers in Illinois would be liable if they were to accept appliances with hazardous material. “The onus is on the scrap dealer to get those items out of there.” As far as Iowa’s complaints, he said, “The answer is that it’s impossible for us to be there 24 hours a day.” The inspectors can only rely on what they see at the time they visit.

Levetzow doesn’t deny that problems exist in Iowa. He said, “The problem with Iowa is that it’s so wooded and hilly,” making it easy for illegal scrap operations to hide from authorities. The other issue is the way the laws are written. “It seems simple,” he said, “but it doesn’t regulate hauling appliances some place. You can’t cause a release into the environment, but it does not talk about keeping them in the state.” He thinks Iowa should regulate appliance hauling the way it regulates tire hauling.

With fingers pointing in so many directions, a few anonymous calls to Illinois and Iowa scrap yards seemed appropriate. The same scenario was described in each call: an apartment tear-down yielded a trailer load of various appliances. Who would take them?

One Illinois yard said they would take everything, but wouldn’t pay. Another offered to pay, with some restrictions. Later, when I called and said that I was a reporter, a manager at one of those yards said, “We shy away from appliances because of the Freon…we don’t get into appliances.”

In contrast, none of the Iowa yards admitted to taking white goods, and when asked what to do with them, they gave references to nearby ADPs.

When Jones was told of the calls, he said that if it was a real load of appliances, “when you show up, it may be a different thing – they may have a procedure.”

Jones said that Illinois companies should have written handling procedures for white goods. “You have to believe that they don’t handle them…until you prove that they are accepting white goods with white good components.”

Dave Keeling at the Steel Recycling Institute talked confidentially with several scrap dealers and passed on the information. “What they tell me is that there is a little more enforcement in Iowa than Illinois…and also the state is a little more aggressive in Iowa. In Illinois, as long as somebody documents that the cfcs have been removed properly and they have that on file, they go ahead and shred them up. For some reason the folks are able to pay for the material at a little higher price in Illinois.” He also noted that the Illinois yards seem to be passing the tests required on shredder fluff and added that the majority of appliances do not have mercury switches or capacitors.

JR’s will be closing its Iowa facility and Bydzovsky is out of a job. “I refuse to pollute – I don’t want to be that way, and that’s why we’re closing. It’s either beat ‘em or join ‘em,” he said. “You killed the watchdog.”

“The problem will continue until Illinois steps up,” Myrick said.

But that’s not all. “West and south of the state are having the same problem,” Levetzow said.

And likely, so are other states where laws are different across borders.


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