Gopher Resource has been hit with a third pollution warning in less than a year for alleged infringements at its lead battery recycling plant in Florida, US.
The Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPC) has issued an Air Pollution ‘precaution’ due to elevated levels of lead in the vicinity of the Gopher Resources Inc./EnviroFocus battery recycling plant in Tampa.
Gopher Resource is a secondary lead smelter, recycling automotive batteries by separating the battery components to capture lead, acid and plastic, before processing those materials.
The EPC is advising residents in the area to reduce prolonged outside activities in the vicinity of the plant due to the elevated levels of lead in the air on the referenced days; this alert remains in effect until further notice.
The precautionary statement began on 18 February, 2022.
EPC said that lead data from its monitors around the plant showed that on 7 January, 2022 lead concentrations were 0.866 ug/m3; and on 29 January, 2022, the concentrations were 0.293 ug/m3.
This results in a monthly average lead concentration of 0.156 ug/m3; on average, the national ambient air quality standard established to protect public health is 0.15 ug/m3, when averaged over three consecutive months.
An EPC statement read: “When the most recent January data is included, the average three-month average concentration for lead is 0.12 ug/m3. Currently, the three-month average has not been exceeded.
“EPC only recently learned of the high values as a result of the required laboratory time needed to analyze the air samples and has notified the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”
Gopher Resources told BEST: “The Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) provided Gopher with data indicating that EPC had obtained unusual readings from one air monitor on two days in January.
“Those readings were inconsistent with both readings from that particular monitor on other days, and readings from two other monitors on several days in January.
“EPC operates and checks all three monitors repeatedly throughout each month. As EPC noted in its public statement, the three-month average reading from these monitors meets the air quality standard established to protect public health.
“We take this matter very seriously and will review the data in close consultation with EPC to better understand the situation. In doing so, we will continue our ongoing cooperation with EPC as we strive to further enhance our safety and environmental protection efforts.
“As always, our top priority is protecting our people, the community and the environment.”
Plant’s historic lead pollution concerns
Last October, Gopher Resource was found to have failed to prevent its workers at its Tampa, Florida, battery recycling facility and smelter from being exposed to “lead inhalation hazards” by a US federal workplace safety investigation.
This was despite warnings since March 2020 of unsafe measures of lead exposure, which the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) required the firm to make the necessary changes.
The company also failed to provide up to 300 employees with adequate respirators that could have kept workers exposure to hazardous substances at or below the allowable level, stated OSHA at the time.
OSHA cited Envirofocus Technologies— operating as Gopher Resource— proposed penalties totalling $319,876.
In July, the EPC found Gopher Resources in breach of 14 violations of the air pollution permits and regulations at its Tampa plant following an investigation of violations, as first reported by the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.
The violations include “life-threatening” levels of SO2 and CO in employee workspaces, removal of exhaust hoods designed to capture noxious fumes, hazardous-liquid leaks, lead-laced dust blanketing the plant floor.
The violation covered poor operation, maintenance and design of the fugitive capture and ventilation systems; poor operation and maintenances of the Process and Hygiene Baghouse Shaker Systems; violations associated with SO2 emissions from the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
Tampa lead battery recycling plant
Gopher Resource acquired the Tampa facility in 2006 and has since then recycled an estimated 75+ million lead batteries.
Since the acquisition, it claims to have invested more than $230 million into the facility, of which $140 million was focused on protecting the health and safety of employees and environmental protection.
The 21-acre site has the capacity to recycle 50,000 automotive batteries per day (13 million annually).