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Gopher Resources

US lead-acid battery recycler accused of exposing workers to lead hazards

Thu, 10/14/2021 - 11:07 -- Paul Crompton

Lead battery recycling firm Gopher Resource has been accused of failing to prevent its workers from being exposed to “lead inhalation hazards”, a US federal workplace safety investigation found.

Despite warnings since March 2020 of unsafe measures of lead exposure, the firm failed to make changes required by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at its Tampa, Florida, battery recycling facility and smelter.

The company also failed to provide up to 300 employees with adequate respirators that could have kept worker exposure to hazardous substances at or below the allowable level, states OSHA.

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.

OSHA area director Danelle Jindra in Tampa, said: “This employer put their bottom line above the safety and well-being of their workers.

“Every worker has the right to a safe workplace, and they should never have to decide between their own health and earning a living. Continuing to put workers in harm’s way is unacceptable, and OSHA will continue to hold employers like Gopher Resource responsible.”

OSHA cited Envirofocus Technologies— operating as Gopher Resource— proposed penalties totalling $319,876.

OSHA also cited Gopher Resource for: 

  • Allowing cadmium, lead and inorganic arsenic exposure levels above the permissible exposure limit.
  • Not implementing adequate engineering and work practice controls to prevent lead and inorganic arsenic exposure levels above the permissible exposure limit.
  • Failing to provide an annual update of the written compliance program for cadmium, inorganic lead and arsenic.
  • Allowing workers to share aluminized jackets that were damaged and stored in the open, and exposed to lead.
  • Requiring workers to wear respirators that were not fit-tested annually.
  • Using shoveling, sweeping or brushing methods to remove lead accumulations.
  • Not identifying all hazards on entry permits.

OSHA also cited A&B Maintenance & Construction, a Tampa-based company that provides supplemental maintenance at the Gopher facility, for exposing workers to health hazards by failing to maintain a written respiratory protection program and allowing lead exposure in excess of the permissible exposure limit. 

A&B Maintenance & Construction faces $16,384 in penalties.

The companies have 15 business days from receipt of their citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Tampa facility

Gopher Resource acquired the Tampa facility in 2006 and since has kept an estimated 75+ million lead batteries out of landfills. 

Since the acquisition, Gopher has 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) to produce recycled pure lead and numerous specialty alloys.

The company’s website says it invests 25% of its operating budget to health, safety and environmental stewardship.

Gopher statement

A Gopher statement to BEST read: “Gopher Resource is deeply committed to protecting our people, our community, and the environment. 

“We have spent most of this year working cooperatively with OSHA to review our entire Tampa operation and to identify areas where historical practices could be improved.  

“We have only just received OSHA’s report, and we are still reviewing it in detail, but as part of our continuous focus on protecting people and communities we have already implemented the majority of OSHA’s recommendations. Other recommendations that require further study have been given the highest priority.   

“We would like to thank our employees and management for their steadfast commitment to continuously improving safety and operations.  

“Although the OSHA investigation of our facility is now closed, we continue to work with OSHA regarding their determinations.  Notably, there are some elements of the report that we respectfully disagree with, including the item related to respiratory protection, which we believe is based on inaccurate data and interpretation.

“Moving forward, Gopher remains committed to continuous improvement. Since Gopher acquired the plant 15 years ago, our unwavering commitment to workplace safety has resulted in a steady and sustained decline in the average blood lead level among employees to half of what it was. 

“Employee lead levels are recognised by experts as a leading measure of health and safety and the effectiveness of efforts to protect employees - and we are dedicated to bringing them even lower.”

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“Life threatening” violations found at lead recycler Gopher Resources US plant

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 08:26 -- Paul Crompton
Gopher Resources recycling plant in Tampa Florida, US

Lead recycling firm Gopher Resources was in breach of 14 violations of the air pollution permits and regulations at its Tampa, US, plant.

Florida regulator the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) confirmed the breaches following its investigation of violations 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). 

For a list of the Tampa Bay Times allegations click here.

The EPC launched its inquiry into Gopher Resource in April after the Times highlighted dangerous conditions inside the plant in March.

The release of the report is a first step that could result in fines or sanctions. 

In June, a former worker at the site filed a law suit against Gopher Resources, reported the Times.

Gopher responds to accusations

Gopher Resources told BEST: "Gopher has consistently stated that it will cooperate with all local, state, and federal agencies that regulate its operations in its ongoing effort to improve the overall safety and environmental performance of its plant. As the EPC report acknowledges, well before EPC began its inspection, Gopher took concrete actions to address the historical claims that the EPC report attempts to validate.  

"Although the EPC report identifies a number of conditions that it labels as "potential” air violations, the EPC report confirms that Gopher has been and remains in compliance with applicable Clean Air Act emission limitations. In fact, Gopher’s lead emissions are very low— more than 50% below the emission limits set by EPA that we are required to meet. Gopher’s positive performance with respect to emissions reflects the substantial and continuing investment Gopher has made in plant improvements.  

"Gopher has a long-standing, strong, working relationship with EPC and continues to welcome its input on changes and improvements that would make Gopher’s performance even better. EPC has conducted more than 100 inspections of the Gopher facility, and we were pleased to work with EPC on this latest one. Gopher is reviewing EPC's detailed report and will continue to work with EPC to implement any needed changes in our systems, processes and results.  

'With respect to workplace conditions, we continue to cooperate with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and we look forward to any recommendations they may make to help enhance our current efforts to protect our employees. We remain confident in our workplace safety program, which has led to a sustained and consistent decrease in average blood lead levels since 2006."

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