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Weitsman Recycling enters deal with EPA over pollution from Owego shredding operation

The EPA entered an agreement with Upstate Shredding-Weitsman Recycling related to air quality concerns around the company's shredder in Owego.
Vaughn Golden
The EPA entered an agreement with Upstate Shredding-Weitsman Recycling related to air quality concerns around the company's shredder in Owego.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is entering an agreement with Upstate Shredding-Weitsman Recycling to address air quality concerns over the company’s scrap metal shredder in Tioga County.

The company, one of the largest scrapping operations on the East Coast, has locations across upstate New York and Pennsylvania. Its billionaire CEO, Adam Weitsman, is regularly involved in business deals and political advocacy across New York.

In September 2021, the EPA notified Weitsman that it determined his shredder in Owego releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, making it subject to federal clean air regulations and permitting requirements.

The agencies found Weitsman failed to secure a Title V air pollution permit or install technology to lessen pollutants.

Weitsman said he didn’t want to fight the EPA and instead, opted to work out an agreement in the form of a consent decree.

"I've been doing this a long time and regulations have changed probably 20 times for air, water, and solid waste. They've changed a million times, so this is just the nature of the business,” Weitsman told WSKG. “But I just didn't want to have an adversarial relationship with the EPA. I'd rather work with them under their guidance, what they need, because in the end we still have the same goal. Recycling is good for the environment and this is, in the end, this is what they want is good for the environment.”

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Weitsman will now have a little over two years to install the air pollution control apparatus around the shredder, bringing the amount of VOCs emitted into the atmosphere within safe and legal amounts. He tells WSKG the multi-story structure has to be designed and constructed specifically for the facility, costing around $7 million.

"This technology never existed, so there was nowhere to buy it from and that's why they've been so nice to give us the time to put this in. I mean the EPA was very stern but very fair,” Weitsman said.

The company will also pay a $400,000 fine to the EPA and has already applied for a Title V air permit.

Weitsman maintained that he believes the shredder doesn’t emit the levels of VOCs required to install control technology and secure air pollution permits. In its investigation, the EPA never monitored the Owego site specifically, it only based its calculation off of the capacity of the shredder and emissions of similar equipment. Still, Weitsman said, the cost of testing for the actual emissions would’ve cost in the ballpark of $700,000. That on top of legal fees and a continuously tightening regulatory environment made him not want to fight over the matter.

The public is allowed to submit comments on the consent decree in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York until next month.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.