Town Square

Metals fire put out; 'Shelter in place' lifted

Original post made on Nov 11, 2013

After extinguishing the metals fire that prompted "shelter in place" alerts from several Peninsula cities, Redwood City announced the air quality alert/advisory has been lifted for residents living in south San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, and south Alameda County.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, November 11, 2013, 7:44 AM


Posted by bay native, a resident of Ohlone School
on Nov 11, 2013 at 9:35 am

Why is this company not being held accountable for its constant endangerment to the communities where it rents land from? No doubt the ceo.or any other official members of the company live near their mess. If these people were held accountable, as should police who are trained To shoot children in the back, then maybe we'd have less "accidents". How long will this go on, as my son calls this the work of the once ler...

Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 10:13 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

Pretty sure my wife & I were affected by the smoke. Anyone else have coughing & headache out of the blue yesterday afternoon/evening?

I *never* get headaches, yet had one yesterday.

Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2013 at 11:37 am

This was more than a 'metals fire'. This processing plant shreads used vehicles and processes the materials into a sorting system. The fire consumed a combination of metals, plastics, paint and other misc materials. When all of these materials burn, the smoke is full of toxic chemicals that will cause multiple health issues.

Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2013 at 11:41 am

Another point: I heard that Redwood City had to bring in a mile of 5-inch hose to get enough water to the fire apparatus on scene. The local water supply and hydrants were insufficient for the needs of the on scene personnel and equipment. All the prep work that Sims Metal performed helped, but adequate water supply was a major issue.

Posted by pecuniac, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Don't worry, most of that shredded "sponge iron" as its termed, is melted down in Asia where human health is something that is only talked about at election times. Oh, just like here.
All those heavy metals, PCBs, etc, become airborne in smelters that don't have stack scrubbers of some sort.

Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Larger fines, smaller piles of scrap, more water, and higher containment are needed. When the fines get large enough and the CEO goes to jail they will fix it. $20K did not even make a dent in their piggy bank. Redwood City is unlikely to regulate it as it is big source of revenue.

Posted by TJ, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I live in Hayward and had to travel to Walnut Creek this morning at 6am and the toxic burning smell was very strong there and here. It's 1:15 now and I am still choking when I walk out the door. This is rediculous. They should have much better preventitive measures in place. I shouldnot be choking this far away. To make it worse, I have to work in Menlo Park tonight, so I get an extra dose. They should be held liable.

Posted by ongo, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm

of course this damaging sickening emergency story was censored on this blog. now its headlines. people seemed oblivious when asked what on earth that horrible all over the counties odor was. you are now more sensitized than ever and unable to work and subject to social and police harassment. we are living near dangerous industries. yet bike citations are main issue.oh yeah, just got stopped for thev SIXTH time by cops in a week walking or biking!!

Posted by becky, a resident of Atherton
on Nov 11, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I live in north fair oaks. I smelled something that seemed like wiring was on fire, a stove on fire, etc. I looked over he fence to see if he neighbor was burning something. This was at 1pm. Later, we went for a walk on Broadway Blve., redwood city at 3:45 pm and I saw the fire. Our yard got so-o full of smoke, I thought it looked like thick fog. I called the sheriff and asked about the fire, but got voicemail. Then I called the fire dept and the messafe said they only answer monday through Friday. Upsetting that there is no way to find out if we are suppose to vacate, or not. I also did yard work in the early evening. The news finally said to stay inside. This morning my eyes hurt and I have congestion in my chest. My disabled son has been sneezing a lot and had a sudden runny nose. Not good. Somehow, it would be good if we could call a number to find out what is going on.Maybe the fire dept could have a message on it.

Posted by Member Morse, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 3:31 pm

This was the most disgusting industrial incident I have ever experienced anywhere period in 50 plus years. "Metals fire" excuse me this was a plastics fire. It smelled like burning plastic--very scary. Just going from the car to the house made my coat smell like the stuff. This is outrageous and is totally preventable. Never should have happened with today's knowledge and technology! I say all residents in the effected are should get compensated for their headaches, smelly clothing, inconvenience and experience. Class action lawsuit sign me up!!!!

Posted by kevlette, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 3:40 pm

We live in Menlo Park near Middlefield and had to stay indoors because the air outside was so toxic. The sky at dusk had a black film hovering above the night lights. Does anyone know what exactly we were breathing and the possible health consequences? It was very bad all afternoon and through the night.

Posted by StillSmokey, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:33 pm

I was less than 2 miles from the fire during the entire 17 hours that it burned. We did not hear anything about it until about 8pm when I decided to check the internet. This fire was grossly under-reported and there was inadequate notification of the shelter-in-place. I have a headache and I want to know what people who might have adverse side effects from the fire should do and who we contact if such a case.

Posted by Give us details!, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm

This feels more like pre-1989 eastern Europe than the SF Bay Area in 2013! Why no press conference/detailed coverage to inform those of us affected and address our concerns? "Shelter in place" and "Shelter in place lifted" are far too vague... We noticed the odor around 2pm Saturday, yet couldn't find any reference to the cause until several hours later. (Of course we remained indoors.) This is serious toxic exposure and contamination, with potential long-lasting, detrimental health and environmental effects. My family began to experience symptoms immediately, even with windows/doors closed: sore throat, headache, nausea, asthma, worsened allergies, metallic taste in mouth; who knows what else is happening at the molecular level. So many questions unanswered... What is the responsible protective/information-disseminating agency in this case? It clearly failed in its leadership role. In absence of reliable, quantified data we can review, we're still not convinced that it's safe to breathe this air.

For the first time ever, no birds or squirrels in our yard today.

Posted by Give us details!, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Correction: we noticed the odor at 2pm *Sunday*.

Posted by CT, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Although reported on Sunday, did this fire actually begin smoldering on Saturday afternoon? We noticed it getting darker around 2 on Saturday, and saw unusual brown and orange-tinged clouds over the peninsula and mountains to the west. They were visible until nighttime.

Posted by Mountain View, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 11, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I noticed the smell of burning metal and the odd clouds on Saturday afternoon in Palo Alto. I live in Mountain View, but spent much of the weekend in Palo Alto. I was not aware of the shelter in place until Sunday evening when I logged on and checked the news. My eyes are still burning.
It makes no sense that there were no notifications on the radio, or by some other method. We should not need to be online to learn that our air is not safe to breathe.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm

My home and family were alerted yesterday afternoon about this by text, landline, and email. It was on the early evening news, on Facebook, on the Almanac and here.

Not sure how else they can be expected to let us know save for trucks driving around the streets with a bullhorn telling everyone.

It is up to all of us to sign up to these safety alerts so that we are in a position to hear them. Those who didn't hear them have to ask why they didn't hear and not criticize authorities for not telling us about it.

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 11, 2013 at 5:24 pm

I kept inspecting in the house, walking around outside the house and block to figure out if someone's house was in trouble. Call from CITY answered that question. I later drove up to Redwood City to scope the problem - unbelievable amount of smoke and dispersion through out the bay. Horrendous amount of smoke.

Given the history of this company, RWC facility, and overall damage to the land, water, and air it calls into question why the facility is allowed to stay in this location. Also why CARGILL thinks it is going to build on land that is saturated with chemicals. Time to call it a day for the SIMS folks. The EPA has already answered the question on building homes here. Time to call it a day for the CARGILL folks, Time to clear that land and work on a plan to detoxify it.

Posted by Mountain View2, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 11, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I swear you could taste the acrid plume in the air by around midnight Sunday in Mountain View. It was really disgusting.

Posted by Stan Hutchings, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm

This should be a wake-up call to sign up for emergency advisories. Newspapers should ONCE AGAIN for the procrastinators publish instructions. I am in Japan and got voice mail and SMS announcements.

Posted by WhataboutSymptoms?, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 6:27 pm

There are a lot of people in the poorer sections that don't have internet or cell phones and if they have them they don't check them constantly. Even when I called the Redwood City Fire Department they couldn't give me a number to call if I developed symptoms from the toxic fumes. We still don't know what to do if people develop symptoms.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 11, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

If you develop symptoms, go to a doctor. What other info are you looking for?

Posted by NewsConference, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm

The company or city should have addressed any concerns people may have with a news conference or some communication or apology and follow-up on potential adverse reactions to the toxic fumes. The fire covered a widespread densely populated area and was highly toxic in nature.

Posted by BTW, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm

A lot of the melted-down metal from scrap yards is bought by Asian companies to make auto bodies and parts. I know this because I worked in a scrapyard in San Jose many years ago.

However, I have been having asthma difficulties since early Sunday afternoon, presumably because of this fire. Today I received another inhaler from my doctor! which was not covered by insurance. Should I send a copy of the bill to Sims???

Posted by ilovepizza, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm

I just got in from an evening walk as I thought it would be safe by now. Boy was I wrong! After about ten minutes I had a slight headache, felt clammy and my ashthma was really bad. Turned around and went home. My advice, even though you can't smell anything any more, play it safe and choose to work out indoors for the next few days if you can.

Posted by molec, a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm

yes the molecular level. that is always a factor. undetectable damage. not good air still stagnant.

Posted by Linda, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm

I agree with Becky. I made some calls to PA Police, San Mateo Sherif and found out it was a fire at a recycle center. That's it. Could not get thru to Fire Dept. Today i was outside off and on in North Fair Oaks and tonight my eyes are burning. I really felt abandoned and betrayed that there was no immediate resourse to advise us and my family. And then to find our the real story and that this company has been fined before is really horific.
We deserve better - but how ?

Posted by SIMS, ANSWER US!, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Redwood City, San Mateo County, Menlo Park Fire Dept, Redwood City Fire Dept, Sims ... someone please address our concerns.

Posted by K, a resident of University South
on Nov 11, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Horrible, terrible experience living here, now. Got caught out in it yesterday. I was trying not to panic. No police officers or other persons of community to answer. Received no warning, no alerts. Air quality index online said everything was "green" in Palo Alto. "Business as usual, nothing to see here". Yeah, right.

Posted by Wondering, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 11, 2013 at 9:50 pm

How many people were admitted to a hospital with life-threatening problems as a result of this? As far as I have been able to determine, the answer is zero.

Posted by Disgusted, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2013 at 12:53 am

If the responsible agencies involved failed to take charge and educate the public in a timely manner in this smaller scale disaster, imagine the chaos in the event of a true catastrophe! And why is it taking so long for the list and quantities of toxins in the air we've been breathing to be released? Extra time needed for cover up? It is our right to know, NOW!

Elected representatives, are you listening? Protect the public, not corporations!

Posted by ExtremelyToxic, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 12, 2013 at 6:45 am

From NBC

But the blaze that led to a "shelter in place" call also has left lingering health concerns due to the heavy smoke that spread throughout the area.

SIMS Metal on Monday told NBC Bay Area they are unsure what exactly was burning, and think it may have been paint, plastics and other parts of cars and appliances.

Officials are concerned that the toxic plume of smoke shot into the air may have contaminated the area's water supply with dangerous chemicals.

In addition, there is also concerns over the area's air quality.

An air rating of "35" is the maximum safe level by federal standards.

The Redwood City monitoring station during the blaze measured levels well above 100."

Posted by Wondering, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 12, 2013 at 7:15 am

Are those standards for continuous long-term exposure or for short-term acute exposure? How many people were exposed to these levels, and for how long? What are the expected consequences of a short-term exposure to these levels? Simply saying the air was "toxic" is not useful.

Posted by ilovepizza, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 12, 2013 at 8:13 am

from an article yesterday in the mercury:

Soot and other particles from Sunday's fire in Redwood City are expected to linger as light winds combine with cold surface temperatures to trap dirty air and keep it from dissipating, which is the same reason the air-quality district endorses wood-burning bans during the winter months.

"It's going to take a while before it clears out," district spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said.

At its peak around 6 p.m. Sunday, soot saturated the surrounding air at a volume of 114 parts per million, more than three times the 35 ppm limit set by federal health standards. While the brunt of the air impact wafted over Redwood City, the cities of Palo Alto and Stanford also issued "shelter in place" alerts telling residents to stay indoors, especially those with existing respiratory ailments.

The concentration fell below federal limits by midnight, but the smell of the materials continued to be noticed well into Monday morning, even as those shelter advisories were lifted.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent Sims a letter stating that fibrous residue from the auto shredding that "may contain plastics, rubber foam, residual metal pieces" and other waste was regularly blowing, or being washed, 800 feet across the water from the Sims site and contaminated Bair Island, which is part of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Posted by SmokingFines, a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2013 at 9:54 am

One person smoking tobacco products can cause the following fines:

Maximum Fines from Cal/OSHA After a 3rd violation within the previous year, Cal/OSHA is required to investigate complaints and may cite employers with fines up to $7,000 for violations classified as general or serious, and fines up to $70,000 for violations classified as willful serious. Violations can be classified as serious depending upon specific circumstances. For example, where the exposure to second hand smoke causes a serious asthma attack which could have been prevented the violation may be cited as serious.

Now, multiply this by the thousands of people subjected to the toxic smoke from the Sims fire and maybe they might not do it again.

Posted by PizzaisGreat, a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2013 at 11:40 am

... But not heavy metals in the lungs and blood stream.

Posted by SimsOftenonFire, a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2013 at 11:49 am

The Sims fire in Austin in August:

Web Link

Posted by What the Hell, a resident of Atherton
on Nov 12, 2013 at 1:40 pm

A very quick internet search on Sims recycling turns up at LEAST 3 Major fires at their plants within 6 mo. That is as far as I looked.

1) RWC Nov 2013
2) Jersey City N.J. Aug 2013
3) Long Marston Fire, England May 3, 2013

What the hell!

Posted by infw, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm

yeas there are lingering effects not as bad as day before but this stuff is really really bad. like a neurotoxin like slight tightness and mild pain in body movements ,a little ''stifness'' effect. not as bad as pesticides but an unusually disturbing ''tightness'' feel in the you were brething benzine or jet fuel. smaller young people could be harmed by this kind of stuff. maybe that ''tightness'' feeling Is the vaporous 'plastic' residues in body.maybe were micro plasticized for eternity!

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I bet we can succeed in driving up insurance rates to the point where it becomes impossible to recycle old cars. Then we can skip Sims and just deep-six our junkers out by the Farallones where they can rust in peace.

Posted by Ron Wolf, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 12, 2013 at 3:17 pm

So if this (PCB's, unknown metals, continuous dense smoke over several hours) isn't enough to trigger an actual evacuation, then what is?

And if these egregious violations aren't enough to shut down a business, then what is?

Less philosophically, which gov't agencies will be following this up and when can we expect to hear something definitive about what was in the air, what is now coating everything in the neighborhood, and what will be done in the future to make this less likely and to bring about a better response?

Posted by Apology?, a resident of Atherton
on Nov 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Where is the apology from Sims? Where is the follow-up reporting and where are our public officials? I have a massive headache and I have tried to air out my bedroom but the smell just lingers.

Posted by 2007 RWC Sims Fire, a resident of Atherton
on Nov 12, 2013 at 7:20 pm

In 2007 Sims had a similar fire in RWC impacting hundreds of thousands of people. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District fined Sims $20,000 in connection with that fire. Peanuts!!!

Posted by J, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 14, 2013 at 7:11 am

They also had small one in January of 2008. I can swear I remember another more recently. Here's the report from '08.

Web Link

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I have a group of squirrels that hang out in my yard. One is losing his hair. It is almost all gone. A black squirrel who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is so sad looking - I hope he survives. I have never seen this before - and a lot of squirrels have lived in this area. I think a vet should offer up some advice for pets that were out in the neighborhood during the heavy smoke period - maybe get the pets a bath so they are not ingesting the stuff stuck to their fur.

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Musical - surely you jest. Bad idea dumping anything in the bay - especially metals with a grease / oil component. A huge amount of time and money is going into cleaning up the bay. No - they will not rest in peace - they will contaminate the place.

Posted by Shut it down, a resident of Atherton
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:21 am

AND, yet another fire and toxic smoke ... and Shelter-in-Place on 12/17/13