Illegal Junkyards Threaten Communities
Salvage yards are an important source of end-of-life recycling for motor vehicles. However, these yards can also be a source of pollution and endanger the health of nearby communities if they are not properly maintained and regulated. Junkyards contain many hazardous materials including lead batteries, mercury from light switches, anti-freeze, Freon from cooling systems, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), asbestos found in the brake pads and lining of older cars, motor oil, and heavy other metals.
These toxins pose real health risks. Mercury is linked to kidney disease, and lead from batteries may cause many health issues, including brain damage, problems with the blood and damage to the reproductive and nervous systems. Asbestos, and PCBs, are carcinogenic and oil-products have been linked to liver, kidney, and bone marrow diseases. Heavy metals and other contaminates may enter drinking water and pose a risk to human health for everyone living near a salvage yard or sharing an aquifer.
There are environmental concerns as well. Anti-freeze is toxic to aquatic life. CFCs and Freon emitted from vehicles cause air pollution. If oil is spread on the ground, it may contaminate plants, animals, soil and groundwater.
Some junkyards are licensed and run according to environmental regulations. A statewide survey of Vermont found well over 200 unregistered “backyard” junkyards in Vermont. Many of these junkyards operate in the midst of neighborhoods. For example:
In Milton, VT ABC Metals is home to an estimated one million tires, posing a fire and disease hazard. The local fire chief has stated that if the tires catch fire, the state of Vermont would not have the resources to effectively fight the blaze. EPA testing has found toxic chemicals in the surrounding neighborhood, including PCBs in the pond’s sediment and arsenic in the drinking water. After nine years without a permit, the junkyard continues to operate, while neighbors await the conclusion of the state’s legal action.
In Strafford, VT a collection of more than 20 cars, excavators, skidders, and boats sit on a half-acre lot on Miller Pond Road, abutting a stream. Neighbors regularly pull tires and scrap metal from the stream, which runs through many of their yards. The junkyard is not licensed and has continued to grow over the years, now crowding the roadway.
What are we doing?
In Vermont, Toxics Action Center Campaigns worked with Milton CLEAN, Williamstown Healthy Environment Neighborhood Alliance, Strafford Green, residents from Sharon, and VPIRG to pass stronger junkyard laws. The laws:
1. Create setbacks from waterways, drinking water wells, and wetlands
2. Give towns more discretion to decide appropriate locations for salvage yards. In considering an salvage yard application, towns can now consider:
- Proximity from places of worship, schools, hospitals, residential areas, public buildings or other places of public gathering;
- Whether the location will properly protect public health, safety, and the environment
- The location’s possible affect on aesthetics, tourism, groundwater, surface water, wetlands, and drinking water.
3. Established the Agency of Natural Resources as the state’s salvage yard regulator, instead of the Agency of Transportation, and set up and staffed a new Salvage Yards Program.
How Vermont Regulates Salvage Yards
See more at the Department of Conservation Vermont Salvage Yard Program.
1. A salvage yard applies to the town for a Certificate of Location. To find out if a junkyard in your town has this certificate, contact your zoning administrator or town clerk.
2. A salvage yard applies to ANR’s Salvage Yard program for a state license. Contact the Storage Tanks & Salvage Yards Section Chief to ask about it.
3. A salvage yard applies for other environmental permits, based on the scope of their operation. Contact the Storage Tanks & Salvage Yards Program Coordinator to ask about a permit.
- State Environmental Permitting Memo
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Implementation flowchart
- Town certificate process chart
- Town notification to residents of law change
- Town initial inspection checklist
- Town letter to illegal salvage yard owner
- Application for certificate of location
- Town salvage yard tracking sheet
- Notice of noncompliance
- Salvage yard denial letter
- Town letter approving certificate
- Reminder of upcoming certificate renewal
- Application for certificate of location renewal