QUEMETCO/RSR CORP BREAKING NEWS: Quemetco lead smelter ordered to repair hole, gaps in hazardous waste storage
The Department of Toxic Substances Control stepped up enforcement Tuesday of the Quemetco battery recycling plant in the City of Industry by ordering repairs to a hole in a hazardous waste storage area containing lead and other toxic waste.
The lead-smelter, located at 720 S. 7th Street near homes in La Puente and Avocado Heights, was given seven days to remove all stored hazardous waste from the waste containment building and install a system that can detect leaks before they happen.
It has seven days to “seal any gaps under the doors to prevent any release of hazardous waste,” according to the order.
In a response emailed Tuesday afternoon, Quemetco said it will appeal the enforcement order and continue operating. It is working with the state environmental agency to respond to all issues raised, the company replied.
“The allegations by DTSC concern a building that has been certified as being in compliance with California’s strict regulatory requirements since 1993 and has been inspected by the DTSC virtually every year since,” wrote Dan Kramer, a Quemetco spokesperson.
“During this time period the facility’s permit was reviewed and renewed by the DTSC, and its operations publicly recognized by a number of agencies as exemplary,” Kramer added.
State environmental agencies are testing the air and soil around the plant for excessive levels of hazardous waste, including lead, which can slow cognitive development in children, and arsenic, a heavy metal that is a known human carcinogen.
So far, after 200 locations were tested in soils within the industrial and commercial areas closest to the plant, 10 samples were deemed hazardous, according to the DTSC. Testing of 75 soil samples from front and backyards of homes have shown elevated levels of hazardous elements but nothing has reached a point of concern, said Joe Diaz, DTSC project manager, on July 7.
The local air district reported a reduction in cancer risk from airborne contaminants from 16 in one million in 2013 to eight in one million in 2015.
The latest order comes after the DTSC issued seven “non-minor violations” this month against the lead-acid battery recycler, mostly centering on hazardous waste storage. The order is part of the department “elevating its enforcement actions against Quemetco,” according to a statement released Tuesday by the agency, a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
“We expect Quemetco to quickly fix these serious violations, and we will continue to monitor its operation closely, said Keith Kihara, chief of the DTSC’s enforcement division.
The DTSC is unsure if any hazardous materials have leaked from the plant. It has ordered the company to submit a work plan that will test for releases of hazardous waste from the containment building.
The state agency wants to know whether the Quemetco building’s thick concrete floor “is successfully preventing leaks from reaching the building’s foundation, which acts as another barrier that prevents a release to the environment.”
Last week, after the DTSC ordered Quemetco to reduce its load of ground-up lead waste, the county Department of Public Health announced it was monitoring the situation. “We will work closely with DTSC and our partner agencies to determine next steps and to ensure this site receives the urgent action needed to protect health,” said Angelo Bellomo, deputy director for health protection for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Staff Writers Jason Henry and Mike Sprague contributed to this article.