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EXIDE VERNON MEDIA ROUND-UP – Residents urge closure of Exide lead smelter during first SCAQMD hearing

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey), who represents many of the affected areas, called the company “one of the worst environmental polluters of lead and arsenic in California.”

“Without board action … hundreds of thousands of local residents and their children will continue to be at risk of silently being poisoned by dangerous emissions,” she said.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Dave Pettit’s Blog

Exide Technologies Hearings Begin In Los Angeles

Posted December 16, 2013 

Exide Technologies runs a lead-acid recycling operation in Vernon, California that has been emitting lead and arsenic into the neighboring communities for many years.  The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) held its first hearing on Saturday, December 14 on its request that an Order for Abatement issue to shut Exide’s Vernon operation until Exide makes upgrades to its pollution control systems to reduce arsenic pollution.  You can read SCAQMD’s request here.  My NRDC colleague Melissa Lin Perrella and I attended the hearing on the campus of Cal State LA. 

Hundreds of community members attended the hearing and many spoke of their desire to shut Exide down.  The Hearing Board allowed all community members to speak, despite  Exide’s request to limit public testimony to the technical issues arising from the Order for Abatement.  Some of the most powerful testimony came from Father John Moretta of the Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights, who has seen his parishoners affected by pollution from Exide for decades; you can read about his remarks in the LA Times story about the hearing here.

Exide recycles used automobile batteries at the rate of 20,000 to 40,000 per day.  That is a lot of batteries!   Exide melts down the old batteries in two furnaces and creates lead ingots which it then sells.  The heart of the Order for Abatement proceeding is whether those furnaces are required to maintain negative pressure inside , so that any airflow is into the furnace, not out of it, and no “fugitive emissions” from the lead smelting process escape into the air.  Exide does not dispute that its furnaces don’t have this feature, but claim that they are not required to have it under Exide’s existing permits and SCAQMD rules.  Exide also claims that its processes are now so clean that there is no appreciable excess health risk to the community and so no reason to shut it down.  These legal and technical issues will be resolved in a series of hearings; the next is January 7, 2014 at SCAQMD headquarters in Diamond Bar.

On a different track, SCAQMD is working on a regulation that, among other things, would clearly require Exide and a neighboring lead-acid battery recycler, Quemetco, to maintain negative pressure in their furnaces and to meet certain emissions standards for lead and arsenic.  Lead is a very dangerous neurotoxin whose negative effects on IQ and learning ability can last a lifetime.  Arsenic is a known carcinogen.  Melissa and I have attended a number of working groups on this proposed regulation, which is scheduled for consideration before the Governing Board of the SCAQMD on January 10, 2014.  Based on industry comments so far, I’d say that Exide will likely do everything it can to avoid further regulation, including pursuing litigation.

The Exide situation is very important for the East L.A. community and for SCAQMD.  I’ll write again after the January 7, 2014 hearing.



Hundreds Turn Out for Exide Closure Hearing

Vernon battery recycler faces new clean up order.

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

The state Department of Toxic Substance Control ordered Exide Technologies in Vernon to conduct an emergency clean up of off-site contaminated soil, dust and sediment at several locations and in at least two storm drains within 1,500 feet of the plant that been found to have concentrations of lead and other metals at or near hazardous-waste levels. Concerned that anticipated rainfall could wash the hazardous waste into local storm drains, officials on Monday told Exide in a letter the clean-up must be done by Dec. 31.

DTSC’s emergency order comes in the heels of a hearing last Saturday during which hundreds of angry residents from southeast Los Angeles County told a Southern California Air Quality Management District independent hearing board they are fed up with the battery recycler and want the facility shut down.

Residents were joined Saturday by a number of elected officials representing the area impacted – from Boyle Heights to Huntington Park. Exide however was not without its own group of supporters, many of them workers at the plant and local union representatives.

Exide workers and residents from throughout Southeast Los Angeles County attend Exide’s abatement hearing at CSULA. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Exide workers and residents from throughout Southeast Los Angeles County attend Exide’s abatement hearing at CSULA. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The formal judicial proceeding held Saturday at Cal State Los Angeles marks the latest round to hold accountable the Vernon based facility accused of failing to maintain toxic lead and arsenic emissions at permissible levels, thereby allegedly elevating the cancer risk for more than 100,000 people living in the region.

The hearing was held in response to SCAQMD’s petition to temporarily shut down Exide’s smelting operations until it upgrades its air pollution control systems to reduce the release of toxins into the air.

Exide and SCAQMD presented their cases to the board before the start of public testimony. To promote greater participation from the community, air quality officials provided a free shuttle service to and from the meeting.

Nancy S. Feldman, attorney for the air quality district, told the hearing board Exide’s air pollution control system is not adequately controlling emissions from its blast furnace.

According to the district’s petition, Exide is accused of consistently violating its permit conditions and District Rule 1407, which requires that good operating practices be used to maintain air movement and emission collection efficiency.

“We will establish that Exide’s air pollution control equipment has insufficient draw to control the arsenic emissions into its air pollution control system as intended,” Feldman said in her opening remarks. She said the problem has been further compounded by leaks in the furnace.

But Exide’s lead attorney Steve O’Neill argued that Exide’s current emissions do not exceed limits set by AQMD.

He said the facility has made substantial improvements since emission samples were taken back in March. Relying on data from those tests would be “relying on obsolete evidence,” he said.

In March, air quality officials found lead and arsenic emissions from the battery recycler high enough to warrant notifying 200,000 residents in Boyle Heights, Maywood, Vernon, Commerce, East Los Angeles and Huntington Park that their cancer risk had been raised.

O’Neil also called the argument for requiring negative pressure “incomprehensible.”

“The District is making a highly technical argument,” he said, adding they had failed to identify what “design criteria has not been complied with by Exide.”

But Feldman said the reduced risk of arsenic exposure does not equate compliance with all other district rules and regulations.

During public testimony, speaker after speaker said health and safety, not technicalities, are what matters. They cited personal cases of cancer, asthma and other health issues they believe were caused by the lead battery recycler.

“We know… that there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood,” said Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who represents many of the impacted cities and neighborhoods. “Without board action the environment and quality of life of hundreds of thousands of local residents and their children will continue being at risk of silently being poisoned.”

O’Neill, however, said AQMD must prove its case with facts, not “emotional” testimony.

“This [hearing] is not a referendum on Exide’s popularity,” he argued. “The central issue is simple: Is Exide operating its furnace and control equipment as designed and engineered and permitted by AQMD?”

Feldman, hoping to make the district’s case more understandable, used the analogy of a household vacuum cleaner to further her argument.

She said a vacuum cleaner is supposed to suction up dirt and debris, filter and capture it in a canister. But if the vacuum’s suction capabilities are not strong enough, not everything will be picked up and the debris could instead be scattered into the air “before it ever reaches the filters.”

“But what if all that dust, dirt and debris from the vacuum cleaner also contained toxins, poisons, things that were carcinogenic,” she said. “While this case may focus on the technical issues, we must not lose sight on the fact that an order of abatement is to protect the public health”

Boyle Heights resident Arturo Herrera, pictured, expresses his frustrations with Exide Techonogies, during the SCQAMD hearing Saturday at CSULA.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Boyle Heights resident Arturo Herrera, pictured, expresses his frustrations with Exide Techonogies, during the SCQAMD hearing Saturday at CSULA. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

O’Neill claims the district is trying to impose requirements on Exide that currently do not exist in the district’s rules or Exide’s permit.

But Feldman says the abatement order is not about trying to enforce a non-existent requirement, but “giving meaning and substance to the rules that are already on the book.”

“No matter how the district tries to word its argument the fact remains that the district is trying to impose a standard that does not exist in any rule or any permit condition,” said O’Neill.

He said AQMD’s hearing board can only issue an abatement order if there is an ongoing violation and shutting down the operation is necessary to stop the violations.

“The rules language states in present tense that the rule must be ‘being’ violated in order to justify abatement,” he said. “A historic violation that has been remedied or fixed cannot provide basis for abatement.”

Santiago Rosas, an Exide worker for over 32 years, called on the hearing board to look at actual facts, not just information from people who do not know about the plant’s operations.

“Exide has spared no expense by using first quality and top of the line equipment,” he said in Spanish.

Exide’s lawyers say the closure order is being fueled by politics, not facts. They claim an unnamed politician confronted AQMD’s Executive Officer Dr. Barry Wallerstein to find a “creative way” to shut down Exide at a public meeting at Resurrection Church on Oct. 8, 10 days before the abatement petition was filed.

“We are here because of political and public pressure,” O’Neill said. “There has been a great deal of political and public pressure on state environmental agencies to shut down Exide since the health risk assessment results.”

It was a point echoed by many speakers, with most seeing the move to seek closure as a positive outcome of efforts to pressure air quality officials to move in that direction.

“Absolutely we are!” responded Martha Molina-Aviles, field director for Sup. Gloria Molina. “These [residents] have come to us and asked for us to advocate on their behalf because they have not been listened to prior to this.”

Longtime Boyle Heights community activist, Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church, testified Exide has not done enough to win back the community’s trust. He said the company released higher than safe levels of arsenic while it was being closely monitored following findings of too high lead emission.

Moretta said he was there not because of “political pressure,” but out of “moral pressure.”

“Can you imagine how we felt, first lead, now arsenic,” said Moretta. “Exide has not been a company of their word; they have been given many opportunities to clean up their act.”

Several speakers called for the plant to be permanently closed, rather than temporarily as called for in SCAQMD’s petition. They said public health should be the priority.

“Put some teeth on these orders to keep these companies from throwing out emissions and endangering our community,” said Boyle Heights resident Arturo Herrera.

Some, however, see the state agency’s petition as overreaching. They say approval would not solve the health and environmental problems in the community.

“Closing Exide is not going to get rid of cancer, autism or asthma,” Huntington Park resident Esmeralda Rosas said.

David Campbell, secretary-treasurer of United Steel Workers Local 675, in a statement called for keeping the plant open in order to protect 100 good paying union jobs.

On Saturday, O’Neill emphasized that Exide had never been cited for violating Rule 1407 until Dec. 4, days before the hearing. He argued the district’s move to amend its rules to require negative pressure contradicts its allegation that Exide is violating the negative pressure requirement.

The state’s department of Toxic Substance Control in April tried to close the plant due to its hazardous emissions, but Exide appealed and a judge overturned the order.

Saturday’s hearing was the first of several hearings to be held as part of the petition process. The next hearing will be held January 7, 2014 at the board’s Diamond Bar headquarters. Testimony is expected to continue in subsequent days and another community hearing will be announced before closing arguments.



Residents urge closure of Exide battery recycling plant

A hearing focuses on concerns over arsenic and lead emissions from Exide Technologies’ plant in Vernon. The company says it has reduced emissions.

exideA warning sign is posted outside Exide’s plant in Vernon. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times / April 24, 2013)
By Jessica GarrisonDecember 15, 2013

One by one, hour after hour Saturday in a ballroom at Cal State Los Angeles, residents, elected officials and activists from southeast Los Angeles pleaded with an air district hearing board to shut down a Vernon battery recycler accused of endangering hundreds of thousands of people because of unsafe arsenic and lead emissions.

“I’m a mother, asking you, please, do something,” said Sandra Martinez. “I go days without sleeping, worrying about my child dying in his sleep from asthma.”

But company officials and workers from Exide Technologies, one of the world’s largest recyclers of lead acid batteries, made a passionate case of their own that the plant’s emissions no longer pose a health risk, and that the air district lacks the authority to force it to shut down or make certain other operating changes.

Exide employee Juan Felix said he has seen “vast improvements” to reduce emissions at the plant. “They do care about the community and they do care about the health and safety of employees,” he said. “Take the time to look at the facts.”

Saturday’s hearing was the first of several planned on a petition filed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in October calling for a halt to lead smelting operations at Exide “until its air pollution control systems are improved and deemed adequate” to control toxic emissions.

A health risk assessment released earlier this year found that the plant was posing an elevated cancer risk to 110,000 people living from Boyle Heights to Huntington Park because of arsenic emissions. The plant, which opened in 1922 and was taken over by Exide in 2000, has also been cited several times in recent years, often for exceeding permissible levels of lead.

In April, the state department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversees the plant, moved to shut it down temporarily, citing health risks, but Exide appealed and a judge allowed the plant to resume operations.

Stymied, the state entered into an agreement with the company in which Exide agreed to spend $7.7 million for a new storm water system and improvements to reduce arsenic emissions. The company will also pay for voluntary blood tests for hundreds of thousands of people who might have been affected.

That did little to satisfy furious residents in southeast Los Angeles County, who have accused the company of poisoning their community and regulatory agencies of allowing it to happen.

In October, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and state Sens. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Kevin de Le¿n (D-Los Angeles) confronted regulators in front of an angry crowd at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights, demanding that officials do everything in their power to protect the public.

Ten days later, the air district, which regulates air emissions independently from the state toxics agency, issued its petition to shut down the plant.

Now, under air district rules, an independent, quasi-judicial panel will take testimony from both sides and from members of the public before ruling.

In her opening statement, Nancy Feldman, the air district’s lawyer, compared Exide’s pollution control system to a vacuum cleaner that spews dust and debris from the carpet “out of the sides before it ever reaches the filters in the vacuum” and “more distressing …it actually spits dirt right out the front, back onto your carpet.”

“You better buy a better vacuum cleaner,” she said.

Exide’s lawyer, Stephen O’Neil, countered that Exide’s arsenic emissions have plummeted since the source tests on which the health risk assessment was based. He also charged that the air district, in response to political pressure, is trying to impose conditions that are not actually enshrined in law on the company.

“Truth No. 1: The Exide facility’s current emissions are not creating a health risk,” he said, adding that the hearing process should not be “a referendum on Exide’s popularity.”

Many who packed into the ballroom did not appear convinced.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey), who represents many of the affected areas, called the company “one of the worst environmental polluters of lead and arsenic in California.”

“Without board action … hundreds of thousands of local residents and their children will continue to be at risk of silently being poisoned by dangerous emissions,” she said.

Others made more personal pleas, telling of relatives who have died of cancer, or who suffer from asthma.

Some also complained that other, less harmful air pollution threats, such as a pungent chili smell from the Sriracha hot sauce factory in Irwindale and the fire rings in Newport Beach, have resulted in shutdown orders, while Exide has been allowed to continue to operate.

Responding to Exide’s complaint that the air district was acting under political pressure, Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church said: “I’m not here because of any political pressure. I’m here because of a moral pressure…. Can you imagine how we felt, first lead and now arsenic?”

Proponents of keeping the plant open, meanwhile, repeatedly emphasized that emissions are way down; Exide has also submitted a detailed plan for further reduction to the air district.

Exide officials and workers warned that shutting the plant would eliminate well-paying manufacturing jobs and leave few options for safely recycling batteries. The Exide plant is one of just two west of the Rocky Mountains.

“We share the company’s commitment to health and safety and, on behalf of the 100 union workers and families from the communities surrounding the Vernon site, we ask our fellow Californians to support [keeping the plant open with new emission controls] to protect the environment and preserve these good jobs,” said David Campbell, secretary-treasurer of United Steel Workers Local 675, in a statement.

The next hearing on the Exide question will be Jan. 7 at air district headquarters in Diamond Bar.

KPCC 89.3 – Southern California Public Radio

 Air Regulators Seek Public Comment on Vernon Battery Recycler

Molly Peterson and Erika Aguilar | 

Mae Ryan/KPCC

An employee wearing a breathing mask works at Exide Technologies, a battery recycling plant has discharged harmful amounts of lead into surrounding communities.

Update 5:00 p.m: More than a hundred people turned out for the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s hearing about the Vernon-based Exide battery recycling plant.

AQMD is asking for the district’s independent quasi-judicial board for an abatement order that would force Exide to halt all lead smelting operations until it comes into compliance with rules to control emissions of arsenic metals from its blast furnace.

The air district said the battery recycler hasn’t property maintained air pollution control systems in the past, which resulted in excess emissions of lead and arsenic.

AQMD lead attorney Nancy Feldman made the district’s opening statement.

She said Exide’s argument is that the company has decreased its arsenic emissions since air quality regulators became aware of the problem but she argued that doesn’t mean the company is in compliance.

“These rules are adopted solely to protect the public health and welfare of every person living in the South Coast air basin,” Feldman said.

Exide officials contend the company has already taken measures to significantly reduce emissions by installing filtration systems and closing up previously exposed areas of the plant.

Attorney Steve O’Neill spoke on behalf of Exide.  He said there is no existing rule on the books that would require the plant to have negative pressure in its blast furnace.

“The district is trying to impose a standard that does not exist in any rule or any permit condition,” he said.

O’Neill also testified that Exide’s testing shows a 98% reduction in emissions.

Members of the public including; state and local politicians, and resident of cities that neighbor the battery recycling plant in Vernon, also spoke.  Most residents expressed concerns about their health and the health of loved ones. Several told stories of neighbors dying of cancer and respiratory breathing problems.

Sandra Martinez asked for the plant to be closed. She talked about her son who frequently visits the emergency room frequently with asthma problems.

“I want my children to live a long life,” she said. “I want them to be here when I pass away. I don’t want to bury a child.”

Others said they’re frustrated with having to attend multiple regulation hearings about Exide’s operations.

“Let’s look at some of the other communities that are being helped out with having polluters taken out of the neighborhood,” said Boyle Heights resident Jose Gonzales. “Newport Beach took out fire rings.”

At least three people spoke in support of Exide, claiming the company has made improvements over the last few years. One woman said plant employees are residents from the surrounding communities with good jobs.

“I ask that the board actually looks at facts when they make the ruling,” said Juan Felix who described himself as a plant worker.

David Campbell is the secretary-treasure of the local United Steel Workers union that represents workers at the Exide plant. He acknowledged the community’s concern but believes Exide is serious about solving its environmental problems.

“Clearly there are a lot of people who want the plant shut down but they are frustrated by the past,” he said. “I can’t really blame them for that.”

Campbell said he doesn’t want to see workers pitted against the community.

The board will hold one more public hearing to gather testimony from the community. A separate meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7 at AQMD’s Diamond Bar location.

-Erika Aguilar

Update 10:15 a.m. The public hearing has begun.   Dozens of people are in attendance.  Representatives from Exide Technologies and  South Coast Air Quality Management will make opening statements and then take comments from residents.


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