Exide Technologies, one of the world’s leading makers and recyclers of lead-acid batteries, was ordered by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) in 2013 to test soil at 39 residential homes and two schools surrounding the battery plant. The results now show that there are no high levels of arsenic, but high levels of lead have been found in the soil samples of all 39 homes and one preschool: Salazar Park Head Start. Further testing is now required at all sites and DTSC will create a plan of action, if necessary, to deal with lead contamination.
Exide, Vernon, California:
The Exide facility in Vernon, California is one of two secondary lead smelting facilities in California, which recovers lead from recycled automotive batteries. Exide recycles 23,000 to 41,000 batteries daily and has an average production of 100,000 to 120,000 tons of lead per year. This is equivalent to recycling approximately 11 million car batteries, which is about the same number of used batteries generated in California annually.
Exide Technologies is under critical scrutiny as it has repeatedly violated health and safety standards, releasing harmful emissions and contaminating the local environment. While the results from the soil test do not show abnormal levels of arsenic, in March of 2013 the South Coast Air Quality Management District released a health study showing that arsenic emissions from the plant poses an increased cancer risk to 110,000 residents from Boyle Heights to Maywood. A Health Risk Assessment by Exide during March of 2013 indicated that the facility poses a maximum individual cancer risk for an offsite worker receptor about 300 feet northeast of the facility; and air regulators also asserted that the facility poses a maximum chronic hazard for the respiratory system of the same offsite worker receptor.
The lead found in the soil test is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women, as it is a powerful neurotoxin that can damage health and result in potential learning disabilities for children, like the preschool children that attend Salazar Park Head Start. Exide has been operating with an interim hazardous waste facility permit since 1981, meaning that it has not acquired a full operating permit for decades.
On January 14, 2014, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice went to Sacramento for a hearing held by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to stand against the lack of regulation that allows for polluting companies to damage local communities, and to advocate for two pieces of legislation: SB 712 and SB 812. Senate Bill 712 by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) is a bill that will require all hazardous waste facilities operating under an interim permit to either be approved by DTSC for a final permit by July 1, 2015, or have their interim permit revoked. Senate Bill 812 by Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) is a bill that would require facilities handling hazardous waste to request a permit renewal from DTSC at least 2 years prior to the expiration date of the permit. Through these two bills, East Yard hopes to hold polluting companies accountable to the health of the communities they operate next to, and make sure the 29 polluting companies operating under an expired permit do not continue to pose a threat to community members.
[UPDATE] – December 1, 2014
In early November of this year Exide Technologies struck a deal with Department of Toxic Substances Control and California regulators to pay almost $49 million towards cleanup, closure, penalties, and costs. Under this order, Exide Technologies must set up a $9 million trust fund for cleanup of up to 215 homes in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Maywood, which will be collected over the next 3 years, and has been fined $526,000 in penalties for mishandling hazardous waste. Exide has also been ordered to secure $38.6 million in financial assurances, which will be collected over the next 10 years with the intent of the funds to be used for cleanup if Exide ever shuts down. Under this agreement, additional testing of homes outside of the current assessment area wouldn’t happen until after 2017. Exide Technologies has been closed as of Mid-march this year because of its failure to meet regulatory requirements.
Senate Bill 712 by Senator Ricardo Lara was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown, which now requires that hazardous waste facilities operating an interim permit either be approved by DTSC for a final permit or shut down operations. Senate Bill 812 by Kevin De Leon was not signed into law and it would have required facilities handling hazardous waste to request a permit renewal from DTSC at least 2 years prior to the expiration date of the permit.
On November 12, 2014 EYCEJ joined community members, community-based organizations, and the Office of Supervisor Gloria Molina in a press conference to hold Exide Technologies legally accountable for the damage to our communities. The press conference was to directly address the deal struck between Exide Technologies, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, and state regulators.
“Exide has poisoned us for years. DTSC has failed us for years. We can’t trust Exide and DTSC to strike up a deal that will do right by us. DTSC has been irresponsible on the ground in our community. We have been kept uninformed and communication has been inconsistent. The agreement Exide and DTSC have made is not in the best interest of the community. The community needs to be well informed and an active participant in resolving the issues.
We demand sufficient testing be completed to understand the full extent of the impacts of Exide’s reckless actions. We demand adequate clean up be completed immediately, regardless of any funding scheme! We DEMAND Exide be permanently shut down!” – Mark Lopez, Executive Director, EYCEJ.
The County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors is currently researching legal actions against Exide Technologies in order to protect the health and safety of the community.
Below are links to the sources used for this blog:
November 13, 2014
Piden Acción Legal Contra Planta Reciclado de Exide
November 12, 2014
CBS Los Angeles
LA County Official Blasts ‘Secret’ Deal over Battery Recycling Plant
November 6, 2014
KPCC – Southern California Public Radio
State Regulators Make Tough Demands – Exide Technologies
March 10, 2014
Los Angeles Times
High lead levels in soil near battery plant prompt health warnings
January 7, 2014
Senator Ricardo Lara’s Office
Lara Bill Responds to Hazardous Waste Threats in Southeast LA County
January 15, 2014
Los Angeles Times
State toxics department seeks $4.5 million increase in funding
January 10, 2014
Los Angeles Times
Air quality officials OK strict new rules for battery plant emissions
January 9, 2014
Los Angeles Times
Exide recycling plant exceeds lead limits again, officials say