Elkhorn Slough Pollution Prompts Petition

Sea otter pups and other inhabitants of Elkhorn Slough are endangered by toxic runoff from a Moss Landing auto dismantling facility, according to the Ecological Rights Foundation.

by Hannah Moore

April 14, 2015—Last winter, the Ecological Rights Foundation (ERF) tested stormwater flowing into Elkhorn Slough from an adjacent auto-dismantling facility and found lead and copper in the runoff. Now the nonprofit wants Monterey County officials to overturn the Moss Landing facility’s recent 10-year permit renewal, citing danger to sea otter pups and other Slough inhabitants.

The volunteer team sampled water from a pipe releasing stormwater from the Pick-n-Pull's vehicle-dismantling area, according to ERF co-founder Fred Evenson, who adds that the team also found high levels of diesel and gas constituents.

“That property has been used for auto-dismantling and wrecking for nearly two decades,” said Evenson. “Two decades of water pollution has been flowing into the Slough.”

Despite repeated attempts to contact Pick-n-Pull, the company could not be reached for comment. But the Pick-n-Pull website states that the company strives to “protect the environment, beautify our neighborhoods and reduce the cost of new goods by returning valuable raw materials into production.”

Pick-n-Pull is a vehicle recycling company established in 1987 and owned by Schnitzer Steel. It takes in wrecked cars and recycles the used—but still usable—parts. According to its website, Pick-n-Pull recycles more than 350,000 cars per year at its facilities nationwide. The Moss Landing location is on Dolan Road.

Last March, the Monterey County Planning Commission granted Pick-n-Pull a 10-year Coastal Development Permit extension. A petition on the ERF website requests that Monterey County Supervisors and members of the California Coastal Commission overturn the permit renewal, order an environmental impact report on the Pick-n-Pull and see that the facility relocates if it cannot operate without releasing contaminants into the Slough. Evenson says no study has ever been done on the auto salvage yard's impact on the Slough.

During auto dismantling, brake fluid, motor oil and other pollutants drip from the vehicles into the ground. When it rains, they move and settle into the Slough, Evenson explained.

Generally, animals at the top of the food web, such as sea otters, sharks and killer whales, are especially affected by marine pollutants because of a process called bioaccumulation. As top predators of their respective ecosystems, they ingest a high quantity of contaminated organisms, each of which has in turn ingested other contaminated organisms. The ERF website calls special attention to sea otter pups because pollutants accumulate in otter breast milk, and because the Pick-n-Pull runoff discharges near a heavily used sea otter pup-rearing area called Yampah Island.

Read the Ecological Rights Foundation petition
Read about sea otters
Read more about sea otters and non point-source pollution

Pick-n-Pull analyzes its stormwater runoff annually, as required by the Clean Water Act. ERF has researched these analyses dating back to 2001 and found levels of contaminants that exceeded EPA standards, according to Evenson.

ERF is a California nonprofit founded in 1995 and dedicated to “furthering the rights to a clean, healthful, and biologically diverse environment.”

“We want the county to require Pick-n-Pull to characterize the extent of contamination in the Slough,” said Evenson.

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