The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has hit Exide Technologies with a notice of violation for air contamination at a California plant that serves as a cheap source of lead for its battery-making business.

Operations were suspended at the Vernon, Calif., plant earlier this year, after Exide lost wrangles with state regulators. Now on its second trip through bankruptcy, Exide has said it is rewriting its business plan to provide for the possibility it will have to get by without the cheap lead from recycling operations at the Vernon plant.

Earnings may drop from $15 million to $38 million annually if the Vernon facility remains offline and it is forced to buy lead in the open market, Exide warned.

The company has also said it isn’t sure it can afford to clean up the site.In a statement, Exide said it is working “to make significant environmental upgrades to the facility,” aiming to resume recycling “while complying with the strictest emissions standards in the nation.”

In the violation notice, issued Thursday, federal regulators invited Exide to talks that will allow the company to present evidence countering the agency’s findings that air around the plant is tainted with excess levels of lead. However, the finding by federal regulators comes on the heels of action by California regional air-quality regulators, which found lead contamination in the air were at unacceptable levels even though lead smelting had stopped.

In its statement, Exide said it is engaged in ongoing talks with California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and the South Coast Air Quality Management District “to make the necessary operational improvements and capital investments” to bring the Vernon plant in compliance.

Exide could be hit with penalties of up to $37,500 a day, according to the EPA’s notice. It could also be barred from bidding on federal contracts.

Not long before Exide sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last June, the Vernon plant was ordered closed by regulators because of allegedly dangerous contamination.

A state judge later reopened the facility, but it was taken out of production once again in March, because of new air-quality rules.

Exide has set a July target date for filing the Chapter 11 plan that will set out how it plans to pay creditors.



Posted: Friday, May 23, 2014 4:28 pm

VERNON — The Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon violated federal limits on lead emissions on more than 30 occasions between September and April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

By releasing an illegal amount of lead into the air, Exide has put the health and well-being of nearby residents at risk,” Jared Blumenfield, EPA regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said in a press release. “EPA and the South Coast Air Quality Management District are working closely to ensure the company comes into compliance with state and federal law.”

Officials with Exide noted that the plant has been out of operation since March to undergo a series of upgrades.

“For the last several months, Exide has been working to upgrade its Vernon facility and ensure that the recycling plant can operate in a way that protects the health and safety of the local community,” said E.N. “Bud” DeSart, senior director of commercial operations for the Exide recycling group in a statement issued by the firm. “The company is dedicated to investing the time and money needed to improve the Vernon facility so it can resume recycling more than 9 million batteries per year while complying with the strictest emission standards in the nation.”

According to the EPA, lead emissions from the plant exceeded federal

Clean Air Act standards on Sept. 9 and 18 of last year, Jan. 2-3 and from March 22 through April 19.

The company has 10 days to respond to the EPA’s notice of violation. The

company could face penalties  of $37,500 per day for each violation,

according to the EPA.

Two local congressional representatives issued statements in response to the EPA’s actions.

“The EPA is working with state and local agencies to ensure that Exide is compliant with federal law, Rep. Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “I will continue to work with them to secure the guarantees that our communities deserve that Exide’s facility does not endanger the health of residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Commerce, also issued a statement, saying “I am glad that the U.S. EPA has been monitoring Exide Technologies and is holding the company accountable to the standards of the Clean Air Act. … Today’s announcement by the U.S. EPA that Exide has violated the Clean Air Act’s lead emissions standards on more than 30 occasions only strengthens my belief that this company should not be allowed to continue emitting pollutants into the air we breathe.

“Exide should stay closed until it can prove beyond any doubt that it will no longer emit harmful pollutants into our communities. I am confident today’s announcement is one more step toward a healthier Southeast community,” she added.

The battery plant has been targeted by area air-quality regulators for more than a year. Testing earlier this year found elevated levels of lead in the yards of 39 homes near the plant. The plant was forced to temporarily shut down last year due to arsenic emissions, and the AQMD sued the company in January alleging numerous air quality violations.

The battery recycling plant has been operating under a temporary permit from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control for the past 32 years and is the only facility left in the state that has not been fully permitted, department officials said last year.

The firm at 2700 S. Indiana St. is one of only two lead-acid battery recycling plants west of the Rockies. In operation since 1922, the plant recycles 23,000 to 41,000 batteries daily.

Exide officials have said some recent elevated emissions were likely the result of construction work being done at the plant to install upgraded equipment. Company officials have said they have agreed to invest more than $5 million in the plant over the next two years, bringing the firm’s total investment to more than $20 million since 2010, and reducing arsenic emissions by 95 percent.