When Roberto Cabarales conducted his Toxic Tour of Los Angeles County in 2010 on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, he would note the fresh scent of baked bread at the Sara Lee bakery in the industrial city of Vernon, as well as the aroma of “freshly roasted ass” wafting from the city’s three fat-rendering factories.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) has ordered the company to reduce the plant’s arsenic emissions that threaten the health of 110,000 people in the plant’s immediate vicinity, but first it must conduct an outreach program to tell the community what it is doing to them.
Exide, which has owned the facility since 2000 and is one of the world’s largest battery recyclers, has 180 days to complete a “risk reduction plan” that it must execute within three years. The plant, which has been in operation since 1922, currently melts down up to 40,000 batteries a day, and until now the great concern has been about the plant’s lead emissions.
The AQMD has been on the hunt since 2010 for the source of high levels of arsenic it detected in the area, but it took two years to point a finger at Exide for what it considered an elevated risk of cancer to nearby residents.
The state’s Toxic Hot Spots program, initiated under Assembly Bill 2588 in 1987, requires sources of pollution to notify the public if the calculated health risk to humans is 10 in 1 million or more. If the risk is 25 in 1 million or more, the facility has three years to come up with a solution.
Exide’s calculated risk is 156 in 1 million.
Although Exide arsenic concerns are new, the company is no stranger to toxic pollution problems. Four years ago, the AQMD ordered Exide to cut its lead emissions at the Vernon plant following public complaints in 2007 about particulate matter and dust fallout. Air monitoring found that the plant had exceeded emission and health standards for lead and the company was ordered to fix it.
After years of toxic emissions, Exide quickly fixed the problem.
Exide stock dropped 47.51% on Thursday to $1.37, well off its five-year high of $17.98 on June 20, 2008.