EXIDE VERNON TOWN HALL MEETING MEDIA ROUNDUP – Citing regulators as Cartel of Contamination, residents express anger, demand closing of Exide lead smelter during heated meeting; state legislators call for investigative audits of DTSC after release of Golden Wasteland report
NBC LOS ANGELES
Outrage Over Exide Battery Recycling Plant in Vernon
By Beverly White, Sean Browning
Nearby residents expressed their concerns at a meeting Tuesday night over a battery plant reopening after it was found to have spewed toxins. Beverly White reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2013.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Crowd voices anger over Vernon battery recycler
At a meeting called by lawmakers, the crowd calls for officials to shut down Exide Technologies over dangerously high emissions of lead and arsenic.
|The Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon. (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times / September 9, 2013)|
- By Jessica Garrison
October 8, 2013, 10:51 p.m.
The speaker of California’s Assembly and two state senators took environmental regulators to task before an angry crowd Tuesday over their failure to regulate a battery recycler in Vernon whose emissions have been deemed a health risk to hundreds of thousands of people.
The people in this community feel “completely ignored by those in government,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, who arrived midway through the community meeting with regulators including the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The fact that the problems at Exide Technologies in Vernon have taken so long to get attention “is quite frankly unacceptable,” he said.
Turning to regulators at the front of the room, he added, “Each of your agencies has let them down.”
Community outrage has been building since officials announced in the spring that Exide has been releasing dangerously high lead and arsenic emissions, which can cause cancer, neurological diseases and learning disabilities in children. The company has since agreed to pay for blood tests for lead on a massive scale to people living and working in the area.
At one point in the raucous meeting, the crowd started screaming, “Shut it down! Shut it down!” Pérez and state Sens. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) clapped in time to the chant.
Delores Mejia held a cardboard box of red-paint-splattered fake million-dollar bills, which she said represented blood money Exide has made at the expense of the largely working-class and minority community.
Joe Gonzalez of Boyle Heights demanded of regulators: “How dare you come back here and ask us what we want. You’re killing us…at what point does this become blatant racism?”
De León, who called the meeting, noted that “there are no Exides in Brentwood … in Malibu.”
“Are our children worth as much as any other child?”
Agency Director Debbie Raphael somberly told the crowd that she could not explain the failures of the past but that her agency has been vigorously working to bring the facility into compliance during her two-year tenure.
Interrupting Raphael at one point, Mejia picked up a megaphone and screamed: “Stop permitting serial polluters! That’s what you can do!”
The meeting came the same day that the Department of Toxic Substances Control issued a consultant’s report saying that its permitting program is racked by “poor management practices” and that the department does not have a system for revoking or denying permits even when there is a significant threat to human health, according to a consultant’s report released by the agency Tuesday.
Reviewing permits for companies that treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste takes years and sometimes more than a decade, according to the report by CPS HR Consulting, a nonprofit that advises governments. Other states get it done within 180 days, the consultant found.
Permits are intended to ensure the safe handling of dangerous materials such as flammable liquids and soil contaminated with carcinogens and other toxins, and help regulators monitor compliance with environmental law.
As The Times reported in the spring, the Exide plant has never received a permit as required by the landmark federal 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which has complicated long-standing efforts to bring the plant into compliance with the law.
The plant, which Exide bought in 2000, has been operating under “interim status” for decades, even as it has amassed a long list of citations. Earlier this week, officials at the toxic substances agency announced a deal with Exide in which the company will set aside millions to improve operations. The company’s permit application is in process.
Exide is not the only facility with permit issues. The report pointed out that of the 117 facilities in California that are permitted to store, treat or dispose of hazardous waste, 29 are operating on expired permits. Among them is a hazardous-waste treatment facility in Santa Fe Springs whose permit expired more than 15 years ago.
Agency officials say that facilities operating on expired permits are allowed to continue as long as they have applied for renewals.
The consultants found the agency’s permitting program to be fundamentally disorganized.
At one point, agency officials gave the study’s authors a flow chart depicting the “standard process” for reviewing permits. But when consultants interviewed employees about the flow chart, the report says, “staff first expressed surprise … and asked where it had come from.” Then they told the study authors that the flow chart “does not capture how things are really done.”
The 115-page report also noted that representatives of many environmental groups believe that the department has “a strong bias toward industry at the expense of public health.” Some in the hazardous-waste industry, meanwhile, told the authors that the Department of Toxic Substances Control allows “unreasonable opposition” from the public to stand in the way of permits even when objections are “not based on science or law.”
Agency officials declined to comment on the study that they had commissioned and released. They noted on their website that staff members would “review the report in depth” and provide a response in November.
CBS LOS ANGELES
Residents Demand Closure Of Vernon Battery Recycling Plant In Heated Town Hall Meeting
October 8, 2013 10:45 PM
BOYLE HEIGHTS (CBSLA.com) — Residents at a town hall meeting Tuesday called for the closure of a controversial battery recycling plant that state agencies charge has spread hazardous pollution into the air and groundwater.The Vernon-based Exide Technologies was shut down earlier this year by the State Department of Toxic Substances Control before a court overruled and allowed the plant to reopen. The decision left some state air quality officials frustrated by the difficulty in dealing with the facility.State officials who came to answer public questions found themselves under attack at the town hall meeting, which ran more than three hours long.Representatives from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) and the Department of Toxic Substances Control faced heated questions from the audience and from State Senator Kevin de Leon.“Do we have to move forward with state legislation that has clear, sharp teeth to shut them down?” de Leon asked.The crowd at the meeting demonstrated their anger by wearing gas masks and posting signs that read “Exide Must Die” to make it clear they want the plant closed because of excessive amounts of lead and arsenic pollution that many say have caused serious health problems.“Frankly it is an embarrassment that with all the scrutiny from you, the media and being on the front page of the paper practically every other week, that this plant is not able to operate within the rules and regulations,” said Barry Wallerstein, Executive Officer of the AQMD.
The director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control tried repeatedly to reassure local residents the plant will be shut down if it continues to endanger the health and safety of the estimated 250,000 people who live in the affected area.
“This company is under a microscope,” said Director Deborah Raphael. “We will be continuing to monitor, work with our colleagues at the AQMD, and if we can declare that if we find levels that meet that standard, that imminent and substantial danger, then we can shut them down immediately.”
On Monday, the Department of Toxic Substances Control announced a $7.7 million agreement with Exide that means the state will drop its effort to temporarily close the plant.
Under the agreement, Exide has agreed to install new controls for arsenic, to repair leaky pipes, and to test the dirt and soil around the plant. The company will also pay for blood testing for those living in the affected area.
Elected Officials, Residents Scold State Regulators for Exide’s Continued Non-Compliance
Residents call for plant’s closure and testing for more chemicals.
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
Three elected officials on Tuesday expressed their commitment to helping residents of Boyle Heights and others affected communities shut down a lead acid battery recycling plant in Vernon, which has repeatedly emitted harmful chemicals into the air and soil while operating on a temporary permit for over 30 years.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Funcionarios y Residentes Regañan a Reguladores por Contaminación Continuo Proveniente de Exide
State Sen. Kevin de León hosted the Town Hall in Boyle Heights to discuss issues related to Exide Technologies in Vernon. He was joined by Sen. Ricardo Lara, Assembly Speaker John Pérez and area residents who angrily told state and local regulators that they are not doing enough to protect the health of hundreds of thousands of people living and working in the area.
Teresa Marquez said she is worried about future generations. (From L to R) Sen. Kevin De Leon, Assembly Speaker John Perez and Sen. Ricardo Lara led the town hall at Resurrection Church on Tuesday night.
(EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)
Pérez called on the regulators to understand the frustration of residents, noting that this is only the most recent, not the first, town hall meeting on Exide, which has been an air quality offender for years, but is still allowed to continue operating.
“Generations feel ignored by the very people who are supposed to protect them,” Pérez said. “When you look at the decades of harm on this community, it is incumbent on you to do everything… you have got to do everything in your power to shut down repeat offenders.”
The often-raucous meeting lasted two hours longer than originally planned and took place in the auditorium of Resurrection Church where community activists and Neighborhood Watch members have been organizing to force the permanent closure of the battery recycler.
Air and toxic substance control authorities and the director of the LA County Department Public Health, which will be administering blood testing to residents in the designated area, made presentations and took questions.
Residents were for the most part unsatisfied with answers to their questions from regulators, with the audience from time to time angrily breaking into a chorus of shout to “shut it down!”
Pérez put Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) Director Debbie Raphael and AQMD Executive Officer Barry R. Wallerstein on the spot, asking them if they believed the plant should be allowed to continue to operate or shut down based on its track record?
Raphael told Pérez she didn’t know, but earlier in the meeting she said DTSC had already shut down Exide once, and they are not done yet.
“We are not walking away” from the problem, Raphael said.
The crowd wasn’t impressed with her answer, however, and continued to give Raphael and Wallerstein a tough time.
On Monday, DTSC announced it had reached an agreement with Exide, and that the Stipulation and Order would require the company to set aside $7.7 million to pay for upgrades to reduce arsenic emissions, replace the leaking piping system, conduct lead blood testing for residents, and to do dust and soil sampling in the area.
While the order first needs to be approved by the bankruptcy judge, DTSC and AQMD consider it a partial victory. Residents, however, aren’t looking for an agreement that resolves or lifts the suspension order issued by DTSC in April. They don’t want Exide to be left off the hook and allowed to continue to operate.
On Monday, Exide representatives told CNS they have already begun working on a $4 million upgrade to the plant’s underground storm-water piping system and “high-efficiency filters.”
Residents, aware of a Dow Jones Business News report that states Exide will pay four times that amount, $16 million, in bonuses to employees under its restructuring plan, believe the amount of money to pay for upgrades and testing is woefully insufficient.
Nonetheless, despite constant calls to shut Exide down, regulators said they are obligated to follow due process in dealing with Exide. They said legislators can help by approving legislation for stiffer penalties for non-compliance that will also prevent polluters from reopening.
Pérez responded by telling regulators to use some “creativity” to bring justice to those who have been exposed to contamination coming from Exide for decades.
Asked what it would take for the plant to be shut down, regulators said there has to be evidence that the plant poses an eminent danger to residents and that it does not have the ability to operate safely: something residents say has already been proven.
Speaker after speaker called for additional tests to check for chemicals such as arsenic and benzene. Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez and others said they aren’t satisfied with the county health department director’s assertion that that arsenic testing is too complicated.
“We have baby teeth [that you can use for testing]!” Marquez shouted from her seat.
In the meantime, AQMD is reviewing Exide’s risk reduction plan and a California Environmental Quality Act study is happening concurrently with the permitting process, Wallerstein said.
DTSC’s Brian Johnson said not issuing the permit could set in motion shutting the plant down.
During his presentation, Wallerstein said AQMD is not comfortable that the testing at the facility is reflecting regular operation levels, that the pollution control devices are working properly and that the outdated designs of the equipment at the plant keep breaking down.
“Frankly, its an embarrassment that this plant is not able to operate within the rules and regulations,” Wallerstein said.
In 2013, AQMD has had 83 site inspections and issued four notices of noncompliance, with a couple more being issued his week, Wallerstein said.
Michael Arellano, a Boyle Heights resident, told elected officials and regulators that he and others had received a claim form regarding Exide’s bankruptcy and they didn’t know how to respond to it. De León said they would talk to Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard’s office about maybe having a meeting on this topic before the fast approaching deadline of Oct. 31.
Exide’s next bankruptcy hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5.
89.3 KPCC – SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RADIO
Town Hall Meeting Offers Little Satisfaction for People Living Near Exide’s Vernon Plant
People living near a controversial lead battery recycling plant in Vernon demanded answers from regulators and lawmakers about the facility’s future during a tense four hour meeting Tuesday.
The government shutdown kept the Environmental Protection Agency away from the meeting. But the head of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Debbie Raphael, showed up to face an angry crowd of nearly two hundred in the auditorium of Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights.
On Monday Raphael’s agency announced it planned to drop efforts to close the plant operated by Exide Technologies. In exchange, Exide agreed to set aside nearly $8 million to clean up toxic pollution, limit future emissions, and provide blood screenings to concerned residents.
Raphael defended the agreement, stressing that Exide contributes jobs to the community. But she said that wasn’t more important than operating safely.
“If Exide cannot find a way to do that — if they cannot find a way to operate without polluting communities, then we will revoke their permit. You heard it from me,” Raphael said, to a smattering of applause.
TIMELINE: Exide’s shutdown in Vernon
Her reassurances and those of local air quality officials weren’t enough for many at the meeting who want the plant closed. Several people even shouted at regulators and jeered their responses.
Assembly speaker John Perez got a better reaction when he joined the area’s two state senators at the meeting. They’ve called for investigative audits of the toxic substances department, and they say they plan to support the community’s efforts to close the plant however they can.
The Cartel Of Contamination: Regulators Just Won’t Shut Down Exide
The Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights was a fitting venue last night for a town hall meeting about resurrecting justice. Senators Kevin De Leon of Los Angeles, Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, and Assembly Speaker John Perez were the heroes grilling a panel of environmental regulators that included the state’s top toxics regulator Debbie Raphael, and a top air regulator, Barry Wallerstein, Executive Officer from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
What they got was a verbal flogging about serial toxic polluter Exide Technologies from lawmakers and from residents that packed the hall. “Are our children worth as much as any other child?” asked Senator De Leon of regulators. Residents, some in gas masks and holding posters that said Arsenic Kills, repeatedly shouted “Shut them down” as regulators talked about the deal they had just cut with Exide to leave the plant open.
Doelores Mejia dubbed the regulators “the Cartel of Contamination,” saying it was outrageous that a bankrupt company like Exide would pay more than $16 million to top executives as a morale booster when the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) only just this week demanded less than half that amount for fixes to the plant’s filtration and drainage systems. Then she sprinkled what she called “blood money” made on the backs of the working class in front of regulators. They each got red-paint splattered fake million dollar bills.
One after another, residents took the mike. “There is no amount of money that Exide can pay for my father, for me, or my mother who has passed,” said Terry Cano, who said that out of five siblings, three had moved away and had no health problems. She, her brother, mother, and father weren’t so lucky. She said that she and her father are terminally ill with an autoimmune disorder. “It’s too late for me,” she said. She may not live to see her son graduate from high school. She offered to donate her body to science and have it “dissected” into little pieces if only regulators could get to the bottom of what made her sick and stopped it from happening again. Exposure to lead and arsenic can cause learning disabilities, autoimmune diseases, high heart disease, strokes, and cancer.
Hector Alvorado said, “Do we have to go to the White House? Three weeks ago we were going to Syria because it gassed its own people. Exide is gassing our children, our citizens.” He said there was a double standard for foreign and domestic policy. Many voiced the sentiment of racism.
Debbie Raphael said she wasn’t responsible for past mistakes at the DTSC but was working to make sure that the company did what regulators required to invest in making the plant safe. Residents said that wasn’t good enough. Only closure would do. Senator DeLeon pressed each regulator at the table on whether they believed Exide should be shut down.
“The honest answer: Do I believe they should be shut down? I don’t know,” said Raphael. “I need the data…, a pattern,” she said to boos. One thing Raphael and other regulators don’t need is more data to shut the company down. Records show that the DTSC knew of Exide’s emissions of heavy metals years ago. In 2007, a study prepared at the request of water regulators estimated that more than 700 pounds of lead was deposited into the LA River from Exide in 2006 alone and the amount of lead dispersed annually had grown. In 1999 and 2000, DTSC found lead at levels of 40 percent in the sediment at the bottom of a storm retention pond.
When DeLeon pressed Barry Wallerstein, the air regulator said he had seen only “problem after problem” at the plant, but that the plant would have to be shut down in a way that isn’t construed as “the illegal taking of a business.” That’s easy. All regulators have to do is look at Exide’s record and follow state law that says a permit can be denied or revoked for any pattern of violating laws on hazardous waste, substances, or materials, or even for threatening the public health and environment. Exide was repeatedly fined for everything from leaks to illegal storage of used lead-acid batteries and failing to minimize the possibility of hazardous releases and repeatedly ordered to cleanup between 2002 and 2008. It meets the criteria for permit denial in spades.
The fact of the matter is we don’t need new regulations, or new laws “with teeth,” as Senator DeLeon offered last night. The problem with environmental regulators is not a lack of manpower, as a just-released permitting review of DTSC suggests. This is a matter of will power, the lack of willpower to enforce some of the toughest environmental laws in the country. The right thing would be to demand that Exide put up many millions more to fix its operations and clean up existing contamination. And put up many millions more to cover the closing of the plant. DTSC officials should be begging the bankruptcy judge to put them first in the creditor line. And then, after they get the money that state law allows them to demand from hazardous waste companies to cover contingencies, they should show Exide the door.
As long as environmental regulators value economic growth over the lives of people, nothing will change. As long as regulators fear losing their raises and corner offices more than standing up to the businesses that complain to the Horseshoe about their unfair treatment, people will keep on dying. Make no mistake: industry has captured our regulators. All businesses have to do is say any regulation or law they don’t like is a “job killer” for policymakers to run for cover. The real job killers are serial polluters that snuff out lives and damage the brains of schoolchildren, hobbling our future productivity and ability to compete. As long as Exide stays open, perhaps our motto should be, “Don’t kill jobs, kill people.”
New Report Shows Regulators Not Protecting Public From Toxic Harm
Consumer Watchdog Calls On Governor To Shakeup Department and Punish Polluters
Los Angeles, CA — California has some of the toughest environmental laws in the nation, and some of the weakest enforcement, according to a new report by leading California consumer group, Consumer Watchdog. The group documented how the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has consistently failed to protect communities and the environment from the environmental and health harms posed by toxic waste in the state’s soil, water, and air. The group wrote the governor calling for the removal of top DTSC managers.
The report’s major findings include: The DTSC lets hazardous waste polluters operate on expired permits for years at a time, cuts repeated deals out of court with polluters, levies ineffective fines, fails to develop and refer cases for prosecution, and refuses to revoke the permits of serial violators of environmental laws.
The report, Golden Wasteland, is available here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/golden-wasteland-report
“The DTSC sits on its hands while hazardous waste management companies and large-scale generators of hazardous waste poison communities,” wrote consumer advocate Liza Tucker, author of the new report, to Governor Brown and DTSC Director Debbie Raphael. “Families are threatened and people are dying. But there’s no cop on the beat to turn to.”
The letter is available here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/goldenwastelandltr2-21-13_0.pdf
The DTSC, a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency, licenses 117 facilities to manage hazardous waste. It regulates about 900 registered businesses that transport it. It also oversees the cleanup of some 1,000 hazardous substance release sites, and monitors the long-term maintenance of about 200 sites where cleanup is complete. Based on interviews with DTSC staff, former and present, affected community members from cases around the state, legislative experts, consultants, advocates, private attorneys, and prosecutors, the report finds that the enforcement culture at the DTSC is spineless and the department is held captive by the industry it regulates.
Among the California Environmental Protection Agency’s boards, departments, and divisions, the DTSC does the poorest job. For example, the DTSC collected far less in fines than the California Air Resources Board between 2007 and 2010, even though it has far broader responsibilities. Over these three years, DTSC’s penalties fell by half to $2.2 million, while the California Air Resources Board collected between $9 and $20 million each fiscal year in the same time period. The number of cases DTSC refers for public prosecution dropped from 55 cases in 2007 to just a single one in 2012.
The Consumer Watchdog report finds:
- The DTSC repeatedly cuts deals out of court, away from the public eye, with serial violators of environmental laws, and regularly negotiates fines down so they become simply a cost of doing business.
- The DTSC lets companies function on expired permits for up to 16 years at a time.
- The DTSC can deny, revoke, or suspend a permit where there is a pattern of non-compliance with laws on hazardous wastes, materials, and substances, or where a company poses a threat to public health. It consistently refuses to use these powers.
- The DTSC often awards permits without proper environmental review.
- The DTSC has not revoked the permit of a serial violator of environmental laws in more than 15 years.
- The DTSC grants exceptions to the rules without public input, saving companies money but risking public health.
- The DTSC suffers from a bias toward industry encouraged by a revolving door between regulators, lobbyists, and lawyers.
The Consumer Watchdog report recommends:
- Top managers at the DTSC be replaced.
- The Auditor General or State Controller conduct a full audit of the DTSC’s finances.
- Serial environmental violators be debarred for state and federal funds and contracts.
- DTSC Enforcement be considered a budgetary program with specific funds tied to it in the annual budget.
- The DTSC Office of Criminal Investigations become a core program and ultimately be moved to the California EPA.
- An Independent Office of Environmental Inspector General be created that reports to the Legislature.
The report concludes that the DTSC is not living up to its central mission of protecting the environment and public from toxic harm. In order to do this, the DTSC must be overhauled. Consumer Watchdog called on DTSC Director Debbie Raphael to replace top managers, enforce existing laws, support enforcement efforts, direct staff to apply maximum fines and penalties, and develop and refer cases for public prosecution. The department should exercise existing authority to deny or revoke the permits of serial violators of environmental laws.
“Californians understand the connection between illness and toxic chemicals. The DTSC exists to protect them. If it chooses not to, it risks becoming obsolete,” said Tucker.