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EXIDE VERNON BREAKING NEWS: Regulation tightens emission limits for arsenic, other toxins from Exide

While the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is the agency that is supposed to deal with contaminated soil, DTSC is notoriously ineffective and can’t be relied on to protect the East L.A. community.

So that leaves SCAQMD to do the work.  We and Communities For A Better Environment have suggested in our comment letters (you can read them here and here) that there should be no emissions of lead until all lead contamination in the community at levels greater than 80mg/kg (the California health-protective screening level for lead) have been removed.  Anything short of that will allow the local communities to continue to be poisoned. 

However, proposed rule 1420.1 would allow Exide and Quemetco to emit a collective total of 788 pounds of lead each year.  I am hoping that the SCAQMD Governing Board will recognize  this problem and do all it can to protect the local communities when it votes on the proposed rule this Friday.

David Pettit, Natural Resources Defense Council (See Story Below)

LA STREETS BLOG.ORG

Governing Board of the AQMD Adopts Amendment Imposing Stricter Emissions Controls on Lead-Acid Battery Recyclers

Concerned citizens, representatives of elected officials, steelworkers, and Exide spokespeople packed the last public hearing on Exide before the AQMD governing board. (webcast screenshot)

Concerned citizens, representatives of elected officials, steelworkers, and Exide spokespeople packed today’s hearing before the AQMD governing board. (webcast screenshot)

“Se me murió mi señora, se me murió mi cuñado… yo no quiero que muera más gente. Esto es lo que pido de ustedes.”

“I have lost my wife and my brother-in-law… I don’t want more people to die. This is what I ask of you.”

The statement came from a visibly unwell Maywood resident named Marcelo Hernández.

Hernández was one of the many concerned citizens from Maywood, Vernon, Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights, and surrounding communities who attributed their cancers, asthma, learning disabilities, auto-immune diseases, and other chronic health problems to Exide’s history of excessive toxic emissions.

They, together with a number of representatives of elected officials and non-profit organizations, had traveled to Diamond Bar today to ask the Governing Board of the AQMD to both vote in favor of an amendment directed at curbing emissions from lead-acid battery recycling plants and shut the the plant down.

Some did it more humorously, with one man saying he was willing to take his clothes off to demonstrate just how ill his body was (Board Chair Dr. William Burke politely declined). Others pointed at the 14 emissions and notification violations Exide has had over the past 10 months — including the most recent one just last week which forced the plant to curb production yesterday — and asked if it was fair that they should have to endure those toxins on top of all the other pollution their communities already had to absorb. Almost all implored the Board to think about the health of the children and other vulnerable populations.

It appears they needn’t have worried.

Just about two hours ago, the Board voted 10 – 0 in favor of proposed amendment rule (PAR) 1420.1, which

…establishes requirements for owners or operators of large lead-acid battery recycling facilities to reduce arsenic emissions and other key toxic air contaminant emissions…[and]…includes requirements for ambient air concentration limits for arsenic, as well as hourly emission limits of arsenic, benzene, and 1,3-butadiene. PAR 1420.1 also contains additional administrative, monitoring and source testing requirements for stack emissions.

Perhaps surprisingly to those that worry about lead emissions — the limits of which Exide always seems to be testing — the rule does not assign new limits on lead.

Under current rules, lead emissions may not cause the ambient (outdoor) air concentration of lead to exceed 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3), averaged over 30 consecutive days. It is a stricter standard than that of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard, which sets the limit for 0.15 ug/m3 over 90 consecutive days. But is also a major improvement over the prior limit of 1.5 ug/m3, which was the standard until 2008.

Through their feasibility assessment, SCAQMD staff determined that changes implemented to meet new, lower emissions standards for arsenic, benzene, and 1,3-butadiene (an industrial compound, known carcinogen, and suspected teratogen) should result in concurrent lead emission reductions.

This confidence seems to stem from enhanced enforcement mechanisms in the new amendment, including better monitoring and heavier curtailment provisions (i.e. third-party monitoring in some cases, requirements to curtail feedstock to the reverberatory furnace for at least 30 days when exceeding lead and/or arsenic point source emissions or ambient air concentration limits, and a punitive sliding scale that assigns a greater curtailment period for greater exceedance), among other things (see the full 544 page proposal here).

But to underscore the notion that they still have concerns about lead emissions, the Board also adopted a related item that requested staff develop a proposal to further reduce allowable lead emissions from both Exide and Quemetco, a rule that will likely be created via a public process later this year.

Some of the Exide workers and representatives on hand were understandably unhappy with the amendment.

Based on their previous emissions, as presented in their 2013 Health Risk Assessment, Exide will be forced to reduce arsenic, benzene, and 1,3-butadiene emissions by more than 95 percent. Which means they will have to  make some plant modifications and install new equipment, including a wet scrubber, regenerative thermal oxidizer, and two pressure monitoring devices. The SCAQMD estimates that the installation, operation, and maintenance of this equipment could cost up to $1.83 million a year.

Men in suits protested they were good neighbors with only the best interests of the community in mind and who were already taking appropriate steps forward. They also felt it was unfair to require they uphold the same standard as Quemetco, Inc., the battery-recycling facility in the City of Industry that uses a different kind of furnace.

Steelworkers and long-time employees made pleas for their jobs, saying that such jobs were few and far between and, for better or worse, the salaries of workers living in the affected communities were what helped keep those struggling communities afloat. The higher costs Exide would incur to meet new standards, they feared, would drive up the costs of running the plant and cause them to lose their jobs.

A thirty-year employee who claimed he’d never been ill asked how the communities could point the finger at Exide when there were railroad yards and other heavy polluters in the area that were probably more dangerous to them than the battery plant.

They just have the idea that Exide is the culprit stuck in their minds, he told the Board in Spanish.

Dissatisfied with that analysis, a young woman proclaimed they were all part of the same community, and that by protesting the costs of implementing changes (thereby indirectly threatening employees’ jobs), Exide was asking them to choose between their health and their livelihoods.

“It’s unfair,” she said. “We are all community.”

Another speaker agreed, charging that it was Exide who was truly against its own workers by refusing to take the necessary steps to curb violations, not the community.

As the session came to a close, the Board members thanked the community members and their supporters for their commitment and time. They said they, too, cared about the health of the community and wanted to put that above all other concerns.

But the concerns voiced by a couple of Board members hinted that the real work in understanding what, if any, damage had been done to the community was just beginning.

Although the January 31st deadline for community members to file health complaints with Exide is fast approaching, few people have undergone testing for lead or arsenic exposure.

The blood-lead testing, to be conducted on as many as 250,000 residents by the Department of Health, will not begin til later this year. And, as Dr. Joseph Lyou, Board member and President of the Coalition for Clean Air noted, the test will only pick up recent, not chronic, lead exposure (and, of course do nothing to test for other toxins, such as arsenic). He called for the Board to continue to consult with health experts on the best way to measure health impacts.

How that issue will be resolved remains to be seen.

In the meanwhile, the other, albeit slower, avenue the SCAQMD is pursuing — an order from the SCAQMD Hearing Board that would require Exide to stop its smelting operations until improvements could be made to its air pollution control systems — may yet bear fruit. As several more days of testimony are required before a decision can be made, and those hearings are only conducted on a monthly basis, it could be that the required improvements are made before the ruling is handed down. It all depends on how quickly Exide moves to implement the necessary changes the new amendment requires.

For more on the AQMD’s dealings with Exide, please click here. For more on the story of Exide in the community, see here, here and here.

CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO STORY

KPCC – SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RADIO

Regulation tighten emission limits for arsenic, other toxics from Exide

Molly Peterson |

Exide Community Meeting - 13

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Exide opponent Barbara Martinez of La Educacion during a town hall meeting at the Resurrection School in October 2013.

 

Regional air regulators are tightening rules for arsenic and other toxic emissions at battery recycling plants in Southern California.

The new regulations affect the only two large-scale lead battery recycling facilities west of the Mississippi: Exide Technologies in Vernon, and Quemetco in the City of Industry.

Last year air officials found that Exide’s arsenic emissions raised the cancer risk for more than 100,000 households between Boyle Heights and Huntington Park.  Since then, it has fought efforts by two different regulatory agencies and grassroots activists to shut it down, and declared bankruptcy.

RELATED: A timeline of the Exide story

Friday’s unanimous vote by the governing board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District lowers the allowable limits for arsenic emissions and two types of organic emissions, benzene and 1,3-butadiene. The battery recyclers will have 60 days to lower arsenic emissions to an interim level; they have a year to reach the final lower levels called for in the rule.

“These measures will further strengthen the toughest air pollution rule in the nation for lead-acid battery plants,” said William A. Burke, the governing board’s chair.

The hearing drew hundreds of witnesses, largely divided into two camps. Neighbors of the plant wearing white shirts and hats with the slogan “EXIDE KILLS” came from Cudahy, Maywood, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights, and other parts of south Los Angeles to support the rule’s adoption. Many testified in Spanish with the help of a translator. Exide employees insisted the plant is safe, describing improvements to the recycling facility made in the last year.

RELATED: Exide Technologies FAQ: Everything you need to know about recycling lead batteries in LA

An AQMD analysis found that Exide will likely have to install new equipment to comply with the new rule, at an estimated annual cost of nearly $2 million, while Quemetco is likely to be able to meet the standards without installing new equipment.

Exide’s Vernon plant manager, John Hogarth, suggested that it would be difficult for his firm to fully comply with the new rule without exacerbating other pollution problems. Still, Hogarth said that he does not expect Exide to appeal the rule, or try to block its enforcement.

Earlier this week, Exide released a statement touting the Vernon plant’s reduction of arsenic emissions by 95 percent since last April. Then on Wednesday, the company notified the AQMD that it had exceeded local lead emissions standards for the third time in the last year. Exide is now operating at a reduced capacity as it addresses the problem.

A separate hearing board convened through the AQMD will decide later this month whether to temporarily shutter the plant, after more public testimony.

Exide has settled some claims with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, requiring the company to purchase a new stormwater runoff system and make other improvements. But a study released last month found arsenic and lead in soil and dust near homes in the area, and toxic regulators have given Exide until the end of the month to clean up the contamination.

Molly Peterson, Environment Correspondent

CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO STORY

David Pettit’s Blog

Lead And Arsenic Pollution In East Los Angeles

Posted January 9, 2014

A public hearing is scheduled to discuss how to clean up a chronically lead-contaminated site in East Los Angeles, home to thousands of working class, minority families.  On Friday, January 10, 2014, at 9 a.m., the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) will take action on their staff’s proposed rule 1420.1, which would impose new limits on lead and arsenic emissions from the two lead-acid battery recyclers in the South Coast air basin:  Exide and Quemetco.  I discussed some of background of the Exide situation here.  You can read the staff report for the proposed rule here.  Warning:  it’s over 500 pages.

Simply put, the proposed regulation sets limits on how much lead and arsenic Exide and Quemetco can emit into the air and requires certain operational practices within these facilities.  The rule is better than the current status, but in my view, not good enough.

As if arsenic and lead in the air weren’t bad enough, another major health threat for communities near Quemetco and Exide is from children ingesting those toxins once they fall to the ground and are tracked into homes.  Historically, SCAQMD has not been interested in soil contamination, but here the soil is contaminated because SCAQMD has allowed Exide and Quemetco to emit far more of these substances than is safe; the emitted poisons then fall to the ground where they can be available to children and others.  While the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is the agency that is supposed to deal with contaminated soil, DTSC is notoriously ineffective and can’t be relied on to protect the East L.A. community.

So that leaves SCAQMD to do the work.  We and Communities For A Better Environment have suggested in our comment letters (you can read them here and here) that there should be no emissions of lead until all lead contamination in the community at levels greater than 80mg/kg (the California health-protective screening level for lead) have been removed.  Anything short of that will allow the local communities to continue to be poisoned. 

However, proposed rule 1420.1 would allow Exide and Quemetco to emit a collective total of 788 pounds of lead each year.  I am hoping that the SCAQMD Governing Board will recognize  this problem and do all it can to protect the local communities when it votes on the proposed rule this Friday.

I’ll be at the hearing and will report from there.  You can follow me on Twitter at @TeamAir for updates.

CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO STORY

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