EXIDE VERNON NEWS – With conditions, Exide smelter may be allowed to reopen and try to prove it can operate without putting nearby residents at risk again
STORY COMPILED FROM THE LOS ANGELES TIMES & RECYCLING TODAY
Recycler Is Allowed to Reopen, With Conditions – Los Angeles Times
Agreement May Allow Exide to Reopen California Smelter – Recycling Today
Air quality officials are giving a battery recycling plant in Vernon another chance to prove it can operate without putting nearby residents at risk.
Despite demands from community groups calling for permanent closure of the Exide Technologies plant, the region’s air quality hearing board approved an agreement Thursday that would allow the idled facility to reopen, but only after it installs equipment to control arsenic emissions and takes steps to keep lead-contaminated dust from being released during the upgrades.
“The ultimate victors here are the people who breathe the air in and around the Exide facility,” said Kurt Wiese, general counsel for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Exide executives said they expect to finish construction by the end of the year.
“I’m confident that the equipment we’re putting in will allow us to achieve the new air quality standards we’re being held to,” said Thomas Strang, Exide’s vice president for environmental health and safety.
The abatement orders were approved by the air district’s administrative law panel a day after a four-hour public hearing in Maywood.
“If this company were anywhere else, like Pacific Palisades or Beverly Hills, this would not be happening,” said Maywood Mayor Oscar Magana. “Exide would be shut down.”
Other speakers faulted regulators for giving the plant a path to reopen near low-income neighborhoods of southeast Los Angeles County that have long endured greater environmental ills because of their proximity to manufacturing facilities and industrial sites.
The Exide plant has provoked community outrage since March 2013. A health study released by the air district found arsenic emissions from the Exide plant posed an elevated cancer risk to 110,000 people in communities stretching from Boyle Heights to Huntington Park.
The plant, about five miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, has been cited more than 30 times by the air district over the last two years, mostly for emitting too much lead.
Exide suspended operations in March because it could not meet new air district requirements to maintain negative pressure in its furnaces. Those rules are designed to prevent toxic air contaminants from seeping into surrounding neighborhoods.
Exide had sought a variance from that requirement, but the air district’s hearing board and a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge denied the company’s request.
Air district officials said the deal marks a significant step forward by securing public health protections that go beyond the agency’s requirements.
Exide, for instance, must pay for a third-party environmental consultant, hired by the air district, to oversee dust-control measures during construction and provide weekly status reports to be posted online.
As part of a related settlement agreement signed between Exide and the air district, the company has agreed to drop its lawsuit challenging regulations the air district approved in January. The air district is allowed to proceed with a lawsuit seeking $40 million in civil penalties from Exide for a series of past air pollution violations.
To comply with the orders, Exide plans to spend $5 million to revamp the facility’s pollution capture and treatment system.
In light of AQMD’s new orders, Exide, headquartered in Milton, Georgia, says it is extending the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notifications sent to more than 100 employees at its Vernon facility.
The WARN Act requires most employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification 60 calendar days in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs. The Act also requires that notice be given to employees’ representatives, the local chief elected official and the state dislocated worker unit.
The Hearing Board’s decision resolves two abatement petitions pending against Exide as well as the lawsuit filed by Exide challenging an AQMD rule. Exide has agreed to the terms of the two new “Orders for Abatement” that were approved by the AQMD Hearing Board on July 10, 2014.
Under those orders, Exide will not resume operations of its Vernon facility furnaces until it installs additional air quality control equipment to comply with newly adopted standards. Exide also will submit monthly progress reports to the Hearing Board on its planned upgrades and will dismiss its lawsuit challenging the adopted standards.
The Vernon plant typically operates around the clock seven days a week, processing about 25,000 automotive batteries each day. The facility is one of only two lead acid battery smelters west of the Rocky Mountains.
Mynor Godoy, a member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, said he feared that if Exide is allowed to reopen, it will go back to violating pollution rules and putting nearby residents at risk.
“We welcome these new safeguards for the community,” he said, “but we’ve suffered enough already.”