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EXIDE VERNON MEDIA ROUNDUP – In 5 lawsuits, residents sue Exide officials over alleged exposure to toxins; suits claims Exide officials mislead public and environmental regulators about safety of lead smelter’s daily emissions into air and willfully endangered the health of children living nearby

MYNEWSLA.COM

Exide battery plant named in 3 more lawsuits

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Three more lawsuits were filed against several company executives and the manager of the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon by residents who allege they and their children were exposed to lead, arsenic and other contaminants.

One of the three new complaints filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court also alleges wrongful death and was brought by family members of residents who died between June 1998 and May 2013. Plaintiff Carmen Buenrostro attributes the deaths of both of her parents in 2002 and 2008 to toxins from the plant that affected the water, soil and air.

An Exide representative could not be immediately reached for comment on the total of five complaints filed against James Bloch, Exide’s CEO; Phillip Damaska, the company’s CFO; Ed Mopas, the firm’s environmental manager; John Hogarth, the plant manager; and R. Paul Hirt Jr., Exide’s president.

Two similar suits were lodged Monday. The allegations in all include negligence, trespass, continuing nuisance and absolute liability for ultrahazardous activity. In each complaint the plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead exposure, according to the suits, which allege the Exide plant is responsible for health problems ranging from kidney dysfunction to cancer and learning disabilities.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring the Department of Toxic Substances Control to either issue a permanent permit or permanently shut the plant down by the end of 2015.

The Exide plant has been closed since mid-March while management works to upgrade pollution controls and meet other regulatory requirements.

— City News Service

EPGNEWS.COM

Residents File Lawsuits Against Exide Executives

More lawsuits expected this week.

By EGP News & City News Service

Several company executives and the manager of the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon were named Monday in two separate lawsuits brought by dozens of residents who allege they and their children were exposed to lead, arsenic and other contaminants.

An Exide representative could not be immediately reached for comment on the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuits filed against James Bloch, Exide’s CEO; Phillip Damaska, the company’s CFO; Ed Mopas, the firm’s environmental manager; John Hogarth, the plant manager; and R. Paul Hirt Jr., Exide’s president.

The allegations include negligence, trespassing and absolute liability for ultra hazardous activity.

One lawsuit was filed by adult plaintiffs and the other on behalf of numerous children. In each case, the plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead exposure, according to the suits, which allege the Exide plant is responsible for health problems ranging from kidney dysfunction to cancer and learning disabilities.

One of the plaintiff’s four attorneys, Robert Mandell, said children and others living near the facility were “unnecessarily” exposed to “dangerously high levels of toxics,” and many of them have illnesses linked to the compounds.

Attorney Robert Kent told EGP they expect to file two or three more cases this week. He estimates the five or so cases will represent around 300 clients.

Kent said they opted against filing the cases as a class-action because they wanted to be able to screen clients to represent those who were damaged, who had suffered birth defects, asthma, cancer, and other illnesses.

Clients were broken up into three categories, adults, minors, and wrongful deaths, he said.

“We couldn’t take on a number that we wouldn’t be able to handle,” he said, adding the courts could ultimately decide to combine all the cases.

All their clients live in areas surrounding Vernon, where Exide is located, including Boyle Heights, Huntington Park, East Los Angeles, Bell, Bell Gardens and Cudahy, Kent told EGP.

“Their quality of life has been compromised” and “we want to get them fairly compensated for their illnesses and death in some cases.

The lawsuits are the latest salvo against Exide, which has included large penalties and orders to upgrade its air pollution systems to meet new more rigorous standards, as well orders to set aside millions of dollars to clean up homes where unsafe levels of lead have been found and pose a danger to the residents.

According to Kent, the lawsuits will allow them to determine what each officer knew and how involved they were in the decisions. “We believe they knew what they were doing,” he said.

He said Exide officials for years thought they could “keep the plant open not put money into cleaning up” and “they got away with it for years.”

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring the Department of Toxic Substances Control to either issue a permanent permit or permanently shut the plant down by the end of 2015.

The Exide plant has been closed since mid-March while management works to upgrade pollution controls and meet other regulatory requirements.

As of press time Exide has not released a comment regarding the lawsuit.

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WALL STREET JOURNAL

Lawsuit Alleges California Battery Recycling Plant Caused Health Problems

Plaintiffs Say They Became Ill from Exposure to Lead and Arsenic

Years of contamination at a Southern California lead-acid battery-recycling plant caused severe health problems for local residents, including cancer and kidney failure, according to a new lawsuit.

The suit, brought against directors and officers of Exide Technologies was filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Plaintiffs attorney Robert Mandell said Tuesday the suit is one of five that he and three other lawyers plan to bring related to the alleged effect of an Exide plant in Vernon, Calif. The group’s 475 clients include children and adults who say they became ill from exposure to lead and arsenic used at the plant, as well as the families of roughly a dozen people who have died from apparent exposure.

The Vernon facility has been shut down or had its operations suspended since last year, and Exide is attempting to restructure its debt and reopen the plant through a Chapter 11 proceeding.

Because filing for bankruptcy shielded Exide from being sued, the new suit only names individuals at the company who aren’t awarded the same protections. Any recoveries for the alleged victims would likely come from insurance policies.

An Exide spokeswoman declined to comment on the litigation.

Mr. Mandell said he’d “like to get these folks compensated for what was done to them,” adding that the filed suit and others to follow are a year and a half in the making. Many of the plaintiffs in the new suit have also filed claims in the bankruptcy proceeding, said Robert Kent, another attorney working on the case.

The first of the suits, filed on behalf of more than 60 children, claims the Exide plant “has emitted and continues to emit dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic, among other pollutants…which adversely affects the air quality” in a handful of communities southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

People living in the area didn’t correlate their health problems to the plant until the California Department of Toxic Substances Control first shut down the facility in April 2013 for environmental violations, according to the suit.

A maker of automotive and industrial power supplies, Exide is looking for a buyer through bankruptcy. If one can’t be found, the company is prepared to cement a deal with senior lenders that will reshape its balance sheet and erase about $600 million in debt.

In recent court filings, Exide said it has spent about $69 million since April to deal with the Vernon plant, which it relied on as a cheap source of lead for the creation of new batteries. The company has spent another $3.5 million in that time to respond to a Justice Department investigation involving Vernon, as well as $4 million to assure regulators of the company’s ability to address contamination caused there.

Last month, a bankruptcy court signed off on a settlement between Exide and California regulators that could clear the way for the Vernon facility to reopen in 2015. Under the deal, Exide promised to pay up to $9 million to clean up the soil in the neighborhoods around the plant.

—Peg Brickley and Katy Stech contributed to this article.

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MYNEWSLA.COM

Exide battery recycler sued by residents over alleged pollution exposure

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Several company executives and the manager of the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon were named Monday in two separate lawsuits brought by dozens of residents who allege they and their children were exposed to lead, arsenic and other contaminants.

An Exide representative could not be immediately reached for comment on the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuits filed against James Bloch, Exide’s CEO; Phillip Damaska, the company’s CFO; Ed Mopas, the firm’s environmental manager; John Hogarth, the plant manager; and R. Paul Hirt Jr., Exide’s president.

The allegations include negligence, trespass and absolute liability for ultrahazardous activity.

One lawsuit was filed by adult plaintiffs and the other on behalf of numerous children. In each case, the plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead exposure, according to the suits, which allege the Exide plant is responsible for health problems ranging from kidney dysfunction to cancer and learning disabilities.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring the Department of Toxic Substances Control to either issue a permanent permit or permanently shut the plant down by the end of 2015.

The Exide plant has been closed since mid-March while management works to upgrade pollution controls and meet other regulatory requirements.

— City News Service

The allegations include negligence, trespass and absolute liability for ultrahazardous activity.

One lawsuit was filed by adult plaintiffs and the other on behalf of numerous children. In each case, the plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead exposure, according to the suits, which allege the Exide plant is responsible for health problems ranging from kidney dysfunction to cancer and learning disabilities.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring the Department of Toxic Substances Control to either issue a permanent permit or permanently shut the plant down by the end of 2015.

The Exide plant has been closed since mid-March while management works to upgrade pollution controls and meet other regulatory requirements.

— City News Service

LOS ANGELES TIMES

New suit filed against Exide plant

Plaintiffs say Exide officials misled public and environmental regulators about safety of daily emissions

Exide Technologies officials willfully endangered the health of more than 60 children living near the company’s troubled lead recycling plant in Vernon, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The complaint alleges that Exide officers, directors and managers intentionally misled the public and environmental regulators about the safety of daily emissions from smelting tens of thousands of lead acid batteries.

“Defendants knew that hazardous and/or toxic substances, including lead and arsenic, had contaminated the air, soil, groundwater and environment through normal operations and accidental discharges,” according to the complaint filed by three law firms on behalf of the children and their guardians.

An Exide spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

Children and others living near the plant were unnecessarily exposed to dangerously high levels of toxics, said plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Mandell.

“Many of these folks are very sick and have illnesses linked to these compounds,” Mandell said.

The lawsuit, which did not detail the alleged illnesses, seeks unspecified damages.

Lawyers plan to file several similar lawsuits, including at least one on behalf of about 60 adults, Mandell said.

It is the latest legal action against the plant, which has been idle since March as Exide upgrades its pollution controls. In August, the company — which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection — disclosed that it is being investigated by a federal grand jury.

In a settlement reached last month with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, Exide agreed to pay up to $9 million for the cleanup of properties contaminated by its lead emissions and to set aside $38.6 million to clean up the plant should it close. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted last month to consider its own legal action against the company.

Community groups and elected officials have demanded the plant’s permanent closure.

In March 2013, a health study found its emissions of arsenic, a carcinogen, posed a risk to more than 100,000 people.

The facility has been cited repeatedly in recent years for emitting too much lead, a powerful neurotoxin that can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems in children.

Plaintiffs in Monday’s lawsuit include two school aged daughters of Bell Mayor Nestor Valencia, who said his family has suffered respiratory ailments and kidney problems as a result of living for decades in Bell, about two miles south of the Exide plant.

“This is an irresponsible company and these decisions were made by its executives,” Valencia said. “The only way they will learn is through a formidable and legitimate lawsuit that tells them the ill effects they have caused.”

kim.christensen@latimes.com

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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