Federal Government Finally Joins the Fray at Polluting Exide Battery Plant in L.A. County

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A quick glance at KPCC’s timeline of “run-ins with regulators” by Exide Technology’s battery recycler in the Los Angeles County town of Vernon reveals a rich history of interaction with various government agencies, but nothing up close and personal with the federal government.

Now the serial polluter can add the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to its dance card.

Last week, the EPA filed a complaint that the lead smelting plant, which has vexed the community and local and state agencies for years, violated the federal Clean Air Act’s emission standards on more than 30 occasions. The agency said the violations occurred between March 22 and April 19, 2014, and additionally on or about September 9 and 18, 2013 and January 2-3, 2014.

Exide was given 10 days to respond and faces fines of $37,500 per day for each violation.

The plant recycles lead-bearing scrap materials and 23,000 to 41,000 automotive batteries daily as a cheap source of lead for its battery-making facilities. It has been closed since March, although the owner has vowed to reopen after upgrading the facility.

It remains to be seen if Exide has the wherewithal to pull that off. The international battery manufacturer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last June, nine years after shedding $1.3 billion in debt in a similar proceeding. Regulators briefly closed the plant last at the time, but a state judge quickly ordered it reopened.

Although the plant has been under fire for years, it successfully fended off criticism until a South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) report a year ago said 110,000 people were at higher risk of cancer because of the plant's arsenic emissions. The AQMD filed a civil suit for $40 million in January and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is demanding more testing for lead around the plant.

Arsenic is notoriously poisonous and has been linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases and diabetes. Lead lowers IQs, can cause lower intelligence and learning disabilities. It has been linked to criminal behavior, stunted growth, seizures and a range of maladies, and is especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women.

Exide has expressed concern that it might not have the financial capability of doing an extensive cleanup of polluted materials on- and off-site if ordered to do so. The Wall Street Journal said the company is expected to submit a bankruptcy plan to the court in July.

Meanwhile, State Senator Kevin De León introduced legislation in January that would shut the recycler down. Senate Bill 812 sets deadlines to close hazardous waste facilities that violate health and safety laws while operating on expired permits. Twenty-nine of the state's 117 facilities regulated by the DTSC don't have the proper permits to operate.

The bill has lingered in the Legislature since January.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

EPA Tells Exide Its Lead Emissions Violated Federal Law (by Jed Kim, KPCC)

EPA Violation Notice Compounds Exide's Environmental Woes (by Peg Brickley, Wall Street Journal)

Vernon Battery Recycler Cited By EPA for Excessive Lead Emissions (by Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times)

U.S. EPA Finds Exide Technologies a Source of Harmful Lead Emissions (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

AQMD OKs Exide Plan to Stop Polluting, but Doesn't Really Believe It Will Work (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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