State Supreme Court rejects Oakland A’s legal challenge over metal waste near proposed ballpark site

Schnitzer Steel operates next to Howard Terminal, seen in the background, where the Oakland A’s plans to build a new stadium.

Schnitzer Steel operates next to Howard Terminal, seen in the background, where the Oakland A’s plans to build a new stadium.

Paul Kuroda, Freelance / Special to The Chronicle

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the Oakland Athletics’ appeal that sought to require a metal-shredding company near the site of the team’s proposed new ballpark to reclassify its residue as hazardous waste and stop depositing it in landfills.

Schnitzer Steel’s recycling center at 1101 Embarcadero West is next to Howard Terminal, where the A’s have a $12 billion plan to build a privately financed stadium as well as housing and offices. For decades, Schnitzer has been converting junked autos, appliances and other scrap metal into recyclables and non-recyclable waste. The millions of tons of metals, plastics and other residue contain substances such as lead, cadmium, copper and zinc at levels the courts have described as potentially dangerous.

But the state Department of Toxic Substances Control has concluded that Schnitzer has reduced the likelihood of environmental contamination by mixing its wastes with silicates, water and cement. The department has allowed the company to transport the residue to landfills, where it is placed on top of the soil and used as cover.

The A’s, who have played at the Oakland Coliseum since 1968, sued the state agency in August 2020 for refusing to classify the wastes as hazardous, saying the plant was releasing 200,000 tons of metal residue each year that contaminated the air, water and soil. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Herbert ruled in March 2021 that a state law, passed seven years earlier, required the department to classify metal wastes as hazardous, prohibiting their deposit in landfills.

But the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco overruled Herbert last September and said the state law allowed the department to make its own assessment and decide whether the treated waste was dangerous to humans or the environment. The court said the Department of Toxic Substances Control had conducted that review and had found that residue from the landfills was not contaminating the air or the water.

The department, after reviewing research studies, was entitled to conclude that “there is no threat to human health or the environment from managing treated metal-shredder waste as non-hazardous,” Justice Alison Tucher wrote in the appeals court’s 3-0 ruling .

Quoting the department’s analysis, Tucher said that classifying treated metal-shredder waste as hazardous was found “not necessary to prevent or mitigate potential hazards to human health or safety or to the environment.” That assessment allowed the department to maintain its previous treatment of the wastes, she said.

Athletics Investment Group, representing the A’s, argued that the wastes were still hazardous and asked the state Supreme Court to review and overturn the appeals court ruling. The court denied the request Wednesday without comment or any indication of a dissenting vote among its seven justices.

Schnitzer Steel opposes the ballpark plan and joined cargo operators, port workers and truckers, and an environmental group in lawsuits last April challenging the city of Oakland’s review that found the project would not cause environmental damage or safety hazards. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman dismissed those suits in September, saying the plan included adequate safety measures and would not increase air pollution.

Representatives of the A’s and Schnitzer Steel could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday’s state Supreme Court order.

The case is Athletics Investment Group v. Department of Toxic Substances Control, S277266.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @BobEgelko