News

'Shelter in place' alert issued due to metals fire

Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City residents urged to stay indoors

Palo Alto police are urging residents to stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed if they smell or see smoke this afternoon and evening, Nov. 10, due to a large fire at a Redwood City metals-recycling plant.

The fire was reported at 1:21 p.m. at Sims Metal Management, located at 699 Seaport Blvd. in Redwood City.

There are no known injuries or fatalities from the fire, according to Redwood City. Redwood City Fire Department brought the two-alarm blaze under control but are still working to extinguish the blaze.

Seaport Boulevard will be closed indefinitely.

Police in three cities issued "shelter in place" warnings to residents as the fire burned throughout the afternoon and evening. Menlo Park police issued the first of two warnings at 2:34 p.m., and Redwood City police issued an alert at 2:56 p.m. As the smoke blew further southwest, Palo Alto police issued a warning at 4:04 p.m. Firefighters expect to contain the fire after 7 p.m., Palo Alto police said.

Smoke from the blaze could be seen from University Avenue and U.S. Hwy. 101 in Palo Alto, and it was crossing the freeway near Marsh Road.

Police closed Seaport Boulevard at Hwy. 101 and the East Bayshore Road remains closed this evening near Seaport while firefighters from Menlo Park and Redwood City battle the blaze.

Sims, which leases land from the Port of Redwood City, recycles scrap metal, cars, appliances and electronics, and calls itself the largest metals recycling company in the world.

In April 2007, a large fire of burning crushed cars sent clouds of smoke over neighborhoods east of Hwy. 101 at the Sims site. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District cited Sims after residue (including toxic polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals) from the plant drifted into adjacent wetlands, according to an agency incident report.

In August of this year, Sims had a huge fire at its Jersey City, N.J., facility. The same location had a second fire early in October, according to various East Coast news reports.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also halted loading of shredded materials onto container ships by the Redwood City facility in 2011, after inspectors found that PCBs, mercury, lead and other pollutants were spilling into San Francisco Bay, according to and EPA findings report and order.

Soils around the facility had high levels of heavy metals and other hazardous substances, EPA officials said at the time.

This story has been updated. Read the updated story.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by inexcusable record
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Toxic air at the expense of poorly run company.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fener Bahce
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 10, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Can smell the heavy odor from the SU-campus!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by tallaiman
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 10, 2013 at 6:20 pm

This place should have been shut down in 2012, before this fire subjected residents to hazardous chemicals.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by EPA
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 10, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Close Sims Redwood City!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Heisenberg
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 10, 2013 at 7:16 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 10, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Let he who is without waste cast the first stone.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by IPA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Strong burning smell still in old Palo Alto :( visibility seems ok though.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cordelia
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 10, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Stay inside and don't breathe any of that shitty air. There's toxic chemicals and lead airborne. Not only will you get a headache, you'll increase your chances of getting lead poisoning now and cancer in the future.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Harvey
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 10, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Very heavy smoke still (845p) air also definitely smells like chemicals. This is unacceptable! That sight has been toxic for years.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Casey Leedom
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 10, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I'm definitely a fan of recycling but with source materials like these there needs to be a lot of care ... and regulation.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sensible.
a resident of Woodside
on Nov 10, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Casey. You've got the only intelligent comment on the whole page. All the geniuses with their noses in the air. How dare there be a recycling facitlity nearby. They should move it to Ohio and we can cancel all recyclying projects around here. Get real folks. Things happen. Regulation, yes, nose in the air holier than thou nonsense, no.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:17 pm

I just drove to Trader Joes. I noticed that the smoke is really bad down near Town and Country (El Camino and Embarcadero), but there is no smoke at all once you get east of Middlefield.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:20 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lucky2
a resident of Woodside
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:23 pm

@Sensible, there's some history here you're failing to take into account. That metal pile at Sims has burned 3 times since 2007, releasing major plumes each time. It's not unrealistic for people to ask that the recycling operation be conducted more carefully. As you rightly say: "Regulation, yes." In this case it seems we need not just regulation but oversight and/or stiff penalties to bring them into line. For the 2007 fire they were fined $20k.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by The Realist
a resident of Woodside
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Part of being human is that we all pollute. We all drive cars that burn fuel, eat food that is shipped on trucks that burn fuel, and use gardening services which use disgusting lawn mowers and 2-stroke engines, and nobody cares about that. There are more pollutants spilling out of that lawn mower or weed eater in 5 minutes of operation than that big gas guzzling SUV puts out in an entire tank of gas. Sometimes I feel like people have trouble seeing the bigger picture of what's really going on. I like how Casey is talking about regulation and I think it is a good step in the right direction of more people seeing the bigger picture.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by The Realist
a resident of Woodside
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm

I agree lucky $20,000 is nothing for such a huge toxic spill like that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:34 pm

9:32pm, Marsh Road and Middlefield: smell is stronger and more stringent now than it was at 3:00 today in this area. It's pretty bad.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anyone been out?
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Can anyone comment on downtown Menlo Park conditions? Around 5:30pm, it was real bad, the MP Trader Joe's even closed early. I don't dare open the door to check.

The wind is predicted to blow SW toward Menlo Park all night then shift to S, SE by morning.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ilovepizza
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Menlo Park here. smells like burning plastic, and the air seems weirdly humid/hazy. Not good. don't go out if you don't have to. Run the AC to filter the air tonight...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Adding to ilovepizza's comment - Anyone been out - one of my friend's in downtown Menlo said it really stinks there. I was in Redwood earlier, it was truly awful, we turned around & went to Mt. View, then home to EPA. Better here - for now.

Maybe it's a good thing that school's closed tomorrow.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by WIllows Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Just went outside in the Willows neighborhood and you can smell the smoke, even see it somewhat. Tried calling Menlo Park Fire Dept. but it's "after hours"... Called Menlo Park police but the line is busy nonstop.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Linda
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Well, go on and ramble and mumble about who is politically correct. The issue here is a fire and residents are trying to obtain information and what to do, especially those of us who are elderly or with children. I understand 'shelter in place', but running this air purifier and it is red so obviously the air inside is not ok. Just want to know if it is safe to sleep through the night, is the fire getting worse? Cannot get any update from fire dept or police as line engaged and no update from them since early in the day with 'shelter in place' message on my phone?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by concerned citizen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:37 pm

This trend of mixing heavy industrial with millions of people close by has too stop. there is plenty of land on railway spurs that are located a safe distance from large populations that would be perfect, but being exposed minding my own business is inexcusable. Charge these criminals with health endangerment too begin with and shut this toxic pit down and clean it up.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I don't understand why people aren't updated on the fire. The news was just on - much of it was, admittedly garbage. One station had accurate reporting.

The wind is supposed to continue blowing southwest this evening, then southeast tomorrow.

Do a Google search...heck, I'll do it for you...Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Veronica
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I was in Nordstrom from 6-7 pm and it even smelled really strong inside the store. The guys in the EBar cafe outside said it had been smelling that way for about 3 hours and another customer said it was smelling all day strongly. We didn't know what it was at the time though the air outside Nordstrom was dark and very toxic. I felt a burning and sore throat as well as gettig a headache.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Beth
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Thick smoke still here, can taste metallic, is ok to sleep? Have an old drafty place with not much to stop the air from entering?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by TK
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I'm also wondering if it's safe, even indoors, or if we should wake the kids and pack up for Grandpa's in San Jose. If there is anyone with official information or an updated advisory on the danger posed by this smoke, please post it. All the current stories are 2 hours old and don't have any useful info beyond "don't breathe the air." Should I go to work tomorrow? Should we get out of town?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by tom h
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2013 at 11:06 pm

just remember who is liable for this and make them pay for their inability to run a business like this. They only care about $$$$$$$$$$ $20,000 is nothing to them .
people need to wake up and organize


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 10, 2013 at 11:24 pm

My family was outside gardening and didn't hear the shelter in place warning. We smelled the smoke but didn't realize it was serious.

HOw serious is it?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Monica
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 10, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Could anyone have warned residents in Menlo Park? I was not aware of a warning until just now, when I learned about Stanford warning their employees. I had my windows open all afternoon and noticed some smell, but I have a cold and cannot tell how bad it was.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by K
a resident of University South
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:26 am

Wow, I left my apartment in downtown Palo Alto about 7PM to walk to the pharmacy on University Ave and noticed this really horrible smell. Before I walked into the pharmacy there was this "fog" everywhere. I've never noticed fog like that in Palo Alto this time of evening. I didn't hear anything about a shelter in place warning at all today. There seemed to be the normal crowd out on University Ave for a Sunday night, I hope everything is going to be OK. I walked home really fast. Ugh.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:30 am

Today around 1.30 a number of us tasted rubber or something weird while downtown PA. We checked all online sources, looked online as well, and
then hourly... around 5pm we called MP fire dept. to find out, since we also
tasted/smelled something inside the library. No information.

Common sense still is king when it comes to figuring out what to do... our lungs burned, headaches, bad taste in mouth... even if there is no warning, you know to stay inside.... it the animals... they can't go inside.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by jane
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:31 am

Actually starting to taste like rubber inside our house....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by kareninca
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 11, 2013 at 2:13 am

If this had been a terrorist attack, there would have been a million reporters on the scene. We would have gotten alerts, and coverage, and details of every chemical we had breathed in. The whole country would have heard; alarms would have directed us to get inside to save our lungs. But because it's "just some business," we get no information, no updates, no details. Well, people's lungs are just as damaged in either case.

I am glad that the Stanford campus informed its residents of the hazard. I wish they had informed us much earlier than 7 p.m.! Still, that is better than the residents of neighboring areas fared.

If you are paying a lot in property taxes, do ask yourself - what is the most basic service that your local government is supposed to provide? I would say: breathable air. Today's air was not breathable, and the situation could have been easily prevented (this company has a record) and/or ameliorated (with public alerts).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by kurt
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2013 at 6:13 am

Where do old cars go when they die? They don't go to heaven where the angels fly. They go to the lake of fire and fry, see them again on the 4th of July.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by jack
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 11, 2013 at 6:40 am

What are conditions this morning?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bhavana in Redwood City
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 7:44 am

I woke up this morning at 6:30am, smelled smoke in my house and on walk to Caltrain. We live in a toxic world and it's incidents like this that I hope will wake us up to taking action to protect our health and the health of our planet. I call for the shutdown of Sims and an wondering if anyone knows citizens groups involved in this effort, or who would like to start one with me? Thanks. Peace to all.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Scrappy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 11, 2013 at 8:21 am

Scrapyards like this have small fires frequently, and big ones every few years ( hubby worked for one while in college). As scrapyards go, Sims is actually better than most, their last big fire having been in 2007. This one did take an unusual amount of time to get under control, but will probably simmer for a couple of days.

Unfortunately, metal must be melted down to be recycled.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2013 at 9:27 am

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 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.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by oh great
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 11, 2013 at 10:22 am

and as if we don't have enough to worry about, do you think this is absorbing in our local water?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by gina
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 11:36 am

I live in Berkeley and noticed a heavy odor of burning plastic this morning .. It was very pungent and smelled very toxic .. asnmd is lingering in the air here in Oakland where I work as well ...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rose
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I was driving home from Noe Valley at 5:30 when I noticed really heavy traffic on 280 in Daly City. I did not hear of the fire until I was already home.

This is terrible. The air was thick and heavy with unusual chemicals

I have a renewed sympathy for the residents of Richmond, California when they experience the shelter in place advisories due to problems at the refineries.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mary Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm

This is quite startling and I would like to know the current air quality, even though we don't smell the fire anymore and it has been put out. What kind of fine are they facing for this?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tish
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 11, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I can still smell the smell when I go outside and it's giving me a horrible headache


 +   Like this comment
Posted by yuckerberg
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 3:46 pm

never has the word ''yuck'' been more appropriate.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by M2013
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Our family left last night because we were all getting headaches, burning eyes etc. We were fine all day today. But the headaches came pack swiftly about 2 hours ago - per Tish's comment is anyone else smelling smoke again?

This is horrible.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I'm a bit confused -- the article said that a "shelter in place" advisory was given, but not by whom nor how this information was distributed. I knew nothing about it until reading this article. Wouldn't using the phone alert system be warranted?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Neighbor - it was. I got email, texts and phone alert on my cell and landline.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 14, 2013 at 12:16 am

There needs to be a better alert system or a loud speaker. For those with hearing loss, a system in the house with a warning light at no charge and no higher taxes to the resident. The phone calls on Sunday were hit or miss depending if the resident was near the landline phone. Some people like me were outside and noticed a smell yet thought it was due to something less dangerous and went about our activities. I saw people walking their dogs and babies in strollers. City govt salaries are too high as well as all taxes and not deserving, esp. after this case. The public should seek answers from the cities as much as Sims Recycling. Perhaps the federal govt should even get more involved too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Larry
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Those poor rich people.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:25 pm

The smoke was very heavy around JLS today and the children obviously exposed to it and bothered by it.

Can our public health officials please give us some information about this smoke and any risks?!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by smoke
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:44 pm

How do we tell the difference between smoke from this fire and the smoke that has caused Spare The Air alerts all week? Is one type of smoke more dangerous?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm

The kids at school are outside a lot and there were no allowances or changes made because of the smoke, even though they clearly seemed bothered by it. Why aren't there any public health announcements about what was in this smoke?!!


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