BREAKING NEWS: LA City Council votes unanimously to back investigation into why Exide’s Vernon lead smelter cited for arsenic pollution has been allowed to operate with temporary permit for more than 30 years; asks city attorney to lay out plans for possible legal action against Exide or to compel state to protect public from potentially dangerous levels of lead and arsenic
(See stories below from the Los Angeles Times, CBS Los Angeles and EPG & City News Service, as well as links to information about the Exide Vernon lead smelter and its levels of toxicity provided by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and to updates on the suspension of Exide’s Vernon plant, provided by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control.)
LOS ANGELES TIMES
L.A. council seeks more state oversight of Vernon battery recycler
Move comes as public meetings on the alleged health risks of the Exide Technologies plant, whose operations were recently suspended by the Toxic Substances Control Department, are about to begin.
|Workers wearing breathing apparatus move boxes at the Exide plant in Vernon. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times / April 24, 2013)|
Days before a series of public meetings are to begin on the health risks allegedly posed by a Vernon battery-recycling plant, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday urged the state to more rigorously regulate the facility.
The council also asked the city attorney to lay out possible legal action against plant owner Exide Technologies, one of the world’s largest makers and recyclers of lead-acid batteries, or to compel the state to ensure that the public is protected from potentially dangerous levels of lead and arsenic.
“We want an explanation for why this has gone on for so long,” said Councilman Jose Huizar, some of whose Boyle Heights constituents have been upset to learn they might face an elevated cancer risk because of the plant’s arsenic emissions. For years it also released harmful levels of lead.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control suspended the Vernon operation last month after a series of Times articles about the arsenic emissions. The South Coast Air Quality Management District said the plant posed an elevated cancer risk to as many as 110,000 people. In addition, state toxics officials said Exide had continuously released hazardous waste into the soil beneath its plant because of a degraded pipeline.
The facility has over the years been cited for allegedly allowing lead dust to sprinkle down on neighboring rooftops and streets, spilling lead onto the 5 Freeway and contaminating groundwater, according to regulators’ reports. Lead is a potent neurotoxin and is considered unsafe for children even at very low levels.
Still, the plant has operated on “interim status” since the 1980s. It is the only hazardous waste facility in California that does not yet have a permit required by the landmark 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — intended to ensure the safe treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste.
The council’s motion urged state legislators to “conduct a full investigation to determine how a plant with known pollution problems had been allowed to operate for 31 years on a temporary permit.”
The first meeting to inform the public of the health risks from the plant — and the company’s steps to reduce them — is set for Thursday morning at the Huntington Park Community Center, with additional meetings in early June in Commerce, Vernon and Boyle Heights.
“Exide welcomes the opportunity to present to the citizens the work that it has undertaken at its Vernon plant to meet required regulatory standards,” the company said Tuesday in a statement.
The meetings are required by the air district because Exide’s arsenic emissions were estimated to create a risk of about 156 cancer cases per million people among nearby workers over decades of exposure. For residents farther away in Boyle Heights, the risk was estimated at about 22 per million. Under district regulations, the public must be warned when risk from a facility reaches 10 per million.
Earlier this spring, an Exide statement urged residents not to be alarmed by the risk assessment, in part because “the increased arsenic emissions only began in 2009 from one piece of equipment.” It also noted that health risk assessments are “very conservative” and said the assessment might have “significantly” overestimated the risk at some locations.
That has done little to calm residents, some of whom fear that the plant’s pollution is making them sick.
“They are afraid they are going to get cancer,” said Leonardo Vilchis, who lives in Boyle Heights and is director of the community group Union de Vecinos. His 11-year-old daughter recently asked him why they didn’t move: “She said, ‘We shouldn’t be living here. We shouldn’t be breathing this air.’ ”
Exide is fighting the state’s temporary closure order. On May 6, it filed a “notice of defense” with the Department of Toxic Substances Control, contending, among other things, that the plant had operated in compliance with its interim-status authorization and that the state’s allegations are “vague and ambiguous.”
“Exide asserts that there is no imminent and substantial danger to the public health, safety or the environment,” the notice states in part.
A hearing on Exide’s motion for a temporary stay of the suspension order is set for June 3-5 before an administrative law judge in Los Angeles. Within 30 days, the judge will issue a recommendation that the Toxic Substances Control Department can accept or reject.
CBS LOS ANGELES
Fate Of Vernon Battery Factory Shut Down Over Lead, Arsenic Emissions Subject Of Hearing Thursday
May 29, 2013 11:49 PM
VERNON (CBSLA.com) — Public hearings will begin Thursday morning to see if a recycling plant in Vernon should be allowed to re-open after tests showed it may have released dangerous levels of lead and arsenic into the air and groundwater.
The state Department of Toxic Substances last month issued an emergency order against the Exide Technologies plant on 2700 South Indiana Street, citing air and ground pollution violations.
Officials warned the 110,000 residents living in Boyle Heights, Maywood and Huntington Park they may have been exposed to dangerous levels of the chemicals, which could pose a relatively high cancer risk.
Many more who drive or work in the area could have been affected as well, according to the report.
KCAL9′s Dave Bryan reports the LA City Council this week passed a resolution asking the city attorney to look into a possible lawsuit against the Exide plant, demanding answers as to why it was allowed to operate for years on only a temporary permit.
“We need to know why it was allowed to operate for over 31 years under an interim permit… It is just unacceptable,” Councilman Jose Huizar said.
Exide operates in 80 countries and is one of the world’s biggest producers, distributors and recyclers of lead-acid batteries.
The facility has been the target of complaints for years, according to elected officials.
Earlier this year, a video released by the Department of Toxic Substances showed a damaged discharge pipeline at the facility reportedly pumping arsenic-filled water directly into the ground. Lead is also a byproduct of the melting process used in recycling car batteries, but the hazardous products are supposed to be safely removed and recycled before they show up in the air and water.
In March, officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) said that Exide Technologies may have exposed local residents to harmful emissions from the battery disposal.
After executives were ordered to shut the facility down, Exide filed a motion for a temporary stay of the suspension order.
In a statement issued at the time, the company said it is committed to working with the community toward promoting a healthy environment.
“Exide welcomes the opportunity to present to the citizens the work that it has undertaken at its Vernon plant to meet required regulatory standards,” a spokesperson said.
Thursday morning’s hearing is scheduled to take place at the Huntington Park Community Center.
Additional meetings are scheduled next month.
A hearing for Exide’s temporary stay of suspension order is set for June 3. A judge is expected to issue a recommendation to the Toxic Substances Control Department at that time.
EGP & CITY NEWS SERVICE
Officials Call For Investigation Into Exide Permit
First of 8 public meetings on harmful exposure to residents today in Huntington Park.
By EGP & City News Service
The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to back an investigation into why a Vernon battery recycling plant cited for lead and arsenic pollution was allowed to operate without a full permit for more than 30 years.
The resolution by Councilman Jose Huizar calls on state lawmakers and agencies to apply “stringent” standards before allowing Exide Technologies to resume operations. In April, the Department of Toxic Substances Control ordered the plant to cease operations.
Exide Technologies, located in Vernon, will host public meetings on the health risks residents and workers face in the surrounding communities. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)
The council also voted in favor of Exide remedying the pollution by upgrading wastewater pipes that the state toxic control agency alleged were leaking arsenic into the soil, potentially polluting groundwater in the area.
No one with Exide Technologies in Vernon was available for comment Tuesday, but the company has announced it will hold 8 public meetings between today and next Wednesday to inform residents and workers who live or work near the facility about possible health risks they may face from exposure to the company’s hazardous emissions. Exide was ordered to hold the meetings by the South Coast Air Quality District (AQMD). In addition to Vernon, the impacted communities include Maywood, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights, Commerce and unincorporated East Los Angeles. The first three meetings will be held today in Huntington Park at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Exide and AQMD officials will answer questions about the toxic chemicals potential health risks and what the company is doing to reduce arsenic emissions.
Boyle Heights is part of Huizar’s council district and within an area of about 110,000 residents who could have been affected by arsenic pollution, known to cause cancer. A meeting will be held at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights on June 4 at 6 p.m.
“Exide is adding toxic air pollution to Boyle Heights, in an area that already has unacceptable levels of air pollution,” Huizar said in April, when news of the company’s excessive toxic emissions first broke.
Huizar said Tuesday he was not satisfied with the state agency’s handling of Exide’s permitting process over the years.
“I do question why the company was allowed to operate with an interim permit,” he said.
Additional public meetings will be held June 1 in Commerce and June 5 in Vernon.
The battery recycling plant has been operating under a temporary DTSC permit for the past 32 years and is the only facility left in the state that has not been fully permitted, the agency’s spokesman Jim Marxen told City News Service.
An effort was made in 2002 to bring the plant up to industry standards so that it could qualify for a full permit, but that process was stalled in 2006, Marxen said, adding that public hearings were held at the time.
A renewed effort was made to get the company into compliance in 2011 when Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Debbie Raphael as the new DTSC director, he said.
The latest order to shut down the battery plant came as the permitting process started up again, but “it just got to a point where problems were at a level where it was an unacceptable risk” for the company to continue operating, Marxen said.
Vernon spokesman Fred MacFarlane told EGP that city officials have been informed about the community meetings. He said Vernon’s Health and Environmental Control Department lacked the authority to issue an air emissions health advisory and had previously requested the AQMD to issue the advisory.
“Vernon city officials felt an AQMD health advisory that explained the risks and detailed any preventative measures that residents should take to protect their health – particularly for seniors and young children – was a prudent and responsible step to take by our region’s air quality regulatory authority,” said MacFarlane.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, whose district includes Vernon, had also been pressuring the toxic control agency to bring about a “rapid resolution” to arsenic emissions at Exide, calling it “one more chapter in this terrible story of ongoing pollution and malfeasance.”
The dangerous emissions from the Vernon-based facility elevated the cancer risks in its surrounding areas with potentially 156 cancer cases per million people expected to develop, AQMD officials said. The long-term non-cancer risks to people in the area include developmental delays, cardiovascular, central nervous system, respiratory and skin damage, and are 63 times higher than state guidelines, according to the AQMD.
California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control ordered the facility to cease operations in April after finding that Exide’s emissions were seeping into the soil and air and creating a significant health risk to the public. Exide was cited in late 2007, early 2008 and early 2009 for violating both AQMD and state lead standards, according to the AQMD report.
The plant recycles about 22 million automotive batteries a year and has been operating in Vernon since the 1920s. Exide, a publicly traded company with operations in 80 countries, took it over about 10 years ago.
For more information about the public meetings contact John Hogarth of Exide Technologies at (323) 262-1101 ext. 275.
Exide Public Meetings:
Huntington Park Thursday, May 30
Huntington Park Community Center
6925 Salt Lake Ave.
Huntington Park, CA 90255
Times: 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6p.m.
Saturday, June 1
Grand Tree Ballroom
5757 Telegraph Road
Commerce, CA 90040
Times: 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m.
Boyle Heights Tuesday, June 4
Resurrection Catholic Church
3324 East Opal Street
Los Angeles, CA 90023
Time: 6 p.m.
Wednesday, June 5
City of Vernon Council Chamber
4305 Sante Fe Avenue
Vernon, CA 90058
Time: 4 p.m.
Exide’s Not So Temporary Permit Warrants An Investigation
By EGP News
For 30 years, residents and workers in Vernon, Commerce, Maywood, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights and unincorporated East Los Angeles have been forced to live with contamination from a car battery recycling plant now owned by Exide.
And for 30 years Exide has been operating under a temporary permit, which state, local and county authorities apparently had no ability, or wherewithal to fully finalize or ensure that the public was not being harmed by the company’s operations.
Since when is 30 years “temporary?”
The County Health Department closes down restaurants and other businesses every day of the week when there is a concern that the public’s health could be at risk. It closes businesses down for issues that some might consider minor, especially in light of the decades long release of cancer-causing pollutants that Exide is now charged with emitting in our air and ground soil.
The AQMD is no stranger to issuing orders to close or to fining businesses found to be contaminating our air, so why has it taken so long for action to be taken against Exide’s operations in Vernon?
It isn’t because Exide has been operating under the radar all these years. Exide was cited for contaminating the environment a number of times in 2007, 2008, 2009 and yet they were not ordered to close down.
Was there something special about Exide that allowed them to continue poisoning the environment, their workers and area residents with arsenic, lead and who knows what else for so many years?
Could it be that this was just another case of government agencies refusing to cross into another agency’s jurisdiction even though they were aware of the potentially dangerous violations taking place? Or could it be that the communities most impacted are predominately low-income and “unlikely” to make much of a fuss or understand the consequences of their exposure?
The state agencies involved in the permitting and oversight of Exide are sure to bristle at allegations that they were lax in the performance of their jobs. They will say that there was not enough evidence of wrongdoing, or regulations did not allow tougher action, or they were working with Exide to come up with solutions, or say that ultimately the system worked and Exide was shut down.
While there could be merit in some of their reasoning, it should be clear that in the case of Exide, for 30 years the system has not worked to protect the public’s health and wellbeing.
We congratulate Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar for pursuing the matter so forcefully, and agree with him that an investigation is warranted in this case. We urge state legislators to join in his call for a full inquiry into this debacle.
Today marks the start of a series of public meetings in communities believed to be the most impacted by Exide’s toxic emissions, we hope they do not prove to be little more than residents being told how to avoid the contamination.
We expect the State Department of Toxic Substances, AQMD and everyone else having jurisdiction in the matter to keep Exide closed until all the public can be guaranteed that all the sources of contamination have been fixed and remediated, if that’s even possible.
South Coast Air Quality Management District
California Department of Toxic Substance Control