BREAKING NEWS: Los Angeles City Council committee asks City Attorney to explore legal action against Exide for toxic plant emissions; inquires about employee cancer rate
By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, City News Service
The City Council’s Energy and Environment Committee instructed the City Attorney’s Office and staff Wednesday to report back on how the city can take legal action against Exide Technologies, owners of a Vernon-based battery recycling facility recently cited for emitting potentially harmful levels of arsenic into nearby neighborhoods.
“I want to make sure the exposure levels are addressed immediately by Exide,” Councilman Jose Huizar said during a committee meeting Wednesday.
Officials of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which monitors stationary sources of air pollution, estimated earlier this month the battery recycling facility has been releasing high levels of toxic arsenic emissions affecting a radius of about 110,000 people, some of them residents in Huizar’s district.
“We want to make sure we move forward and express to Exide we want this done at all costs. I don’t think any life has a price to it,” Huizar said. “Exide is adding toxic air pollution to Boyle Heights, in an area that already has unacceptable levels of air pollution.”
The arsenic emissions are high enough that the cancer risk for those closest to the facility – mostly people who work in nearby buildings – is 156 cancer cases in 1 million, while those in nearby residential neighborhoods including in Maywood, Huntington Park as well as in Los Angeles, have risks of between 10 in 1 million and 22 in 1 million.
The air pollution monitoring agency notifies the public if toxic emission levels reach 10 in 1 million, and if levels go to 25 in 1 million, the agency requires that the companies make changes to their facilities.
Exide has since installed some pollution control measures, which has reduced the emissions, “but from our point of view, it’s not a permanent fix and we want them to do more,” South Coast Air Quality Management District Deputy Executive Officer Mohsen Nazemi told the committee.
Nazemi added that typically companies have three years to come back with a permanent fix, but the monitoring agency wants Exide to improve their control systems in a few month’s time.
The cost of designing a “brand new air pollution system” could potentially cost the company “millions of dollars,” Nazemi told City News Service.
“They may not have to do that, but it will still be relatively costly” to implement a less drastic fix, he said.
Exide, which recycles 20,000 to 40,000 lead acid batteries a day, first came under scrutiny for its lead levels, which were so high that they pushed Los Angeles County’s overall levels of lead emissions beyond federally acceptable limits, Nazemi said.
The company’s lead levels are now under control, Nazemi said, but amid stricter monitoring of the facility’s operations, they discovered “fugitive” arsenic emissions were leaking out of the facility.
Nazemi said the arsenic emission appeared to have been going into the atmosphere since 2010, if not earlier.
Committee member and Councilman Dennis Zine also requested that staff bring back information on how many of the company’s employees have contracted cancer.
Whether employees have contracted cancer at higher than normal levels “plays into how serious this factor is, not only for the community, but for the employees who work there,” Zine said.
“And it may be that some of those employees live in the community, so when they leave work and take off their protective gear, they’re going to get exposed again.”
Exide Technologies purchased the Vernon facility 10 years ago, though the plant, one of just two left “west of the Rockies” that recycles lead acid batteries, has been in Los Angeles since the 1920s.
Local Battery Recycler Poses Highest Cancer Risk In Southern California
By Diego Rentería
Pollution, much like love, knows no borders, which is why the City of Los Angeles is exploring legal action against a Vernon battery recycler that released high levels of arsenic emissions and increased the cancer risk in surrounding neighborhoods.
On April 3, the L.A. City Council’s Energy and Environment Committee asked the City Attorney’s Office to explore legal action against Exide. Councilmember José Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights, also chairs the Energy and Environment Committee. Huizar is quoted as saying, “They have told us they will take three years to correct this problem. We are asking to see if we could as a city get this to be reduced. That’s just simply too long for a severe problem to be corrected.”
At the state level, Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, who represents many of the affected residents, asked the Department of Toxic Substances Control to immediately act on Exide’s high levels of toxic arsenic emissions.
Last month, the South Coast Air Quality Management District found that emissions of chemicals, particularly arsenic, from Exide Technologies’ Vernon battery recycling plant had increased the measured maximum cancer risk for workers to 156 per one million and the maximum cancer risk for residents to 22 in one million. AQMD said Exide’s Vernon plant “posed a higher cancer risk to more people than any of more than 450 facilities the agency has regulated in Southern California in the last 25 years.”
AQMD found that increased arsenic emissions from Exide is potentially impacting as many as 110,000 residents of Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce, Boyle Heights, and unincorporated East Los Angeles.
California’s AB2588 law requires that facilities that emit toxic air pollutants must notify potentially affected residents if the calculated risk is 10 in one million or more. If the calculated risk surpasses 25 in one million, the transgressing facility must develop a plan to reduce toxic air emissions below the 25 in one million threshold.
Exide’s Vernon facility has a history of citations by the AQMD:
In 2010, EGP reported that between 2007 and 2010, Exide was issued 16 Notices of Violation, resulting in 84 inspections during that period, according to a report by Mohsen Nazemi, AQMD Deputy Executive Officer.In late 2007, early 2008 and early 2009, Exide violated both AQMD and state lead standards, and at one point Exide’s Permit was amended to allow only half the production until the company was in compliance, according to the AQMD report.
Other violations included improper handling of lead contaminated materials, recordkeeping and equipment maintenance. The company’s compliance plan required process and building improvements, site clean up, and more air monitoring.
AQMD has implemented regulations since the late 2000s, which have successfully reduced lead emissions from Exide Technologies. The company is now in compliance with the federal health standard for outdoor levels of lead.
Just a few months ago, Exide’s Frisco, Texas, battery recycling plant shut down after the City of Frisco purchased vacant land owned by Exide in exchange for the closure of the plant.
Exide will hold a number of public meetings in May to inform potentially affected residents of the high potential cancer risk caused by Exide’s high toxic emissions.