EXIDE VERNON BREAKING NEWS: More stories about Exide admitting criminal conduct regarding operations at its Vernon lead smelter and the permanent shut down and cleanup of the violation-ridden plant to avoid criminal prosecution
Over the last year, federal authorities built what appeared to be a strong criminal case against Exide Technologies, the Vernon battery recycler that has long faced scrutiny for spewing lead and arsenic into neighborhoods in southeast Los Angeles County.
Investigators found environmental crimes spanning two decades and documented the transgressions in hundreds of pages. Among other violations, the company and previous operators had illegally stored lead and caustic battery acid at the 15-acre facility and then dripped hazardous waste all over Southern California roads as they transported it in leaking trailers to an unpermitted facility in Bakersfield.
But instead of charging Georgia-based Exide with crimes that could have landed its executives in jail, the U.S. attorney’s office struck a deal. It allowed the companyâ€”and firm employeesâ€”to escape criminal charges by agreeing to permanently close the Vernon facility, demolish it and clean up the pollution. Exide also had to commit to pay nearly $50 million to clean up the site and surrounding communities while admitting to an array of felony violations.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Exide Technologies will immediately begin shutting down its embattled battery recycling plant in Vernon after reaching an agreement, which federal officials announced Thursday, that allows the company to avoid facing criminal prosecution for decades of pollution.
Under theÂ deal between federal officials and the company, Exide acknowledges criminal conduct, including the illegal storage and transportation of hazardous waste. Company officials will avoid criminal charges in exchange for shutting down, demolishing and cleaning theÂ 15-acre battery recycling plant about five miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Federal officials on Thursday detailed their investigation of Exide and its two decades of illegal waste disposal and other environmental crimes. The U.S. attorney’s office defended its agreement to force the facility’s closure in exchange for dropping the prosecution.
Yonekura said that without the agreement, Exide, which is in bankruptcy, “would almost certainly cease to exist. And it would be liquidated if it still faced the possibility and threat of criminal prosecution.”
“The government would be left holding the bag for the cleanup and remediation,” Yonekura said. “In short, this is the best solution for a very difficult environmental problem.”
She said the agreement will produce improvements in the environment for thousands who live near the Vernon plant, including less lead, arsenic and other cancer-causing agents in the air and water.
In a statement, Exide officials said the agreement would allow the company to emerge from bankruptcy and meet its obligations to close and clean up the plantÂ while preserving approximately 10,000 jobs at its facilities globally.
“We recognize the impacts that closing the Vernon facility will have on our approximately 130 employees and their families,” Robert M. Caruso, president and chief executive of Exide Technologies, said in the statement. “On behalf of the company, I thank them and the United Steel Workers Union for their commitment and dedication.”
The agreement with Exide does not require additional funds for cleanup beyond nearly $50 million in payments outlined in a fall 2014 settlement with state regulators. But the agreement accelerates payments into trust funds. It also extends an ongoing program to test surrounding residents for lead poisoning.
Federal officials insisted the agreement would require the company to pay the cost of the entire cleanup, even if it exceeds $50 million.
If the company does not comply at any point within the next 10 years, it will be prosecuted for felonies it has already admitted to, they said.
â€œTheyâ€™re on the hook with this agreement to pay whatever it takes to clean that site up,â€ said Joseph Johns, assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the environmental crimes section.
Johns said he would have liked to secureÂ a conviction and penalties against the company. But prosecuting the company would have resulted in its liquidation, leaving taxpayers to pay for the cleanup.
â€œWe decided that the balance of justice required us to think out of the box,â€ Johns said. â€œWe struggled with this, and we decided that the right thing to do was not worry about sending one or two people to jail for a year or two, but rather, to prevent another 50-to-100-year sentence for the 110,000 people, the children and grandchildren that live in the communities.â€
The Department of Toxic Substances ControlÂ said it would issue an order that outlines the safe closure of the plant along with cleanup of residential properties in neighboring areas.
â€œDTSC will use every tool and legal mechanism at its disposal to ensure that Exideâ€™s remaining resources are used to properly close the facility and clean up contamination in the residential area,” department Director Barbara Lee said in a statement.
StateÂ Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Huntington Park), who wroteÂ legislation requiring the state agency to issue Exide a permit or shut it down by the end of 2015, said the plant’s closure will bring relief to those who live in the area.
“But the legacy of impacts of this facility will not go away overnight,” he said in a statement. “To truly understand the magnitude of this issue, we need a comprehensive review of soil contamination and better data on the health impacts to people who continue to be exposed to unhealthy levels of lead and arsenic.”
State Senate leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) said that while the closure wasÂ a victory for those in the community who long wanted the facility shuttered, he was concerned about the terms of the agreement not to prosecute Exide.
“What concessions did the U.S. attorney get for letting them off the hook?” De Leon asked. “We need to make sure the community doesn’t get shortchanged by this settlement.”
Roberto Cabrales, a community organizer with Communities for a Better Environment, called news of the closure “a shocker.”
His group and others fought for years to see the plant closed and had expected that state officials would allow Exide to remain open.
“We’re concerned that they will not be pursued for criminal prosecution,” Cabrales said. “But if that means that Exide will stay closed, then that’s in itself a victory for the community.”
He saidÂ community groups would push state regulators to quickly and thoroughly clean nearby homes contaminated with lead from the battery recycler.
Sitting in her small blue Honda car with her grandson outside of Maywood Elementary School, two miles from the Exide plant, Angela Benitez, 60, smiled at the news that the battery recycling plant was closing for good. She has lived in the area for nine years.
“It’s magnificent,” she said. “We’ve been signing petitions for it to close.”
Benitez said she remembered the noxious fumes the facility emitted.
“It was almost like an acid smell, a bleach-like odor,” she recalled.
The smell would cause her eyes to become inflamed. She’d get headaches and her grandson would often cough, she said.
She said she’s disappointed Exide would not face criminal charges.
“I don’t think the punishment fits the crime,” Benitez said.
A 2013 report released by the South Coast Air Quality Management District found that Exide’s arsenic emissions endangered the health of 110,000 people who live near the plant.
Over decades of operation, the facility has polluted the soil beneath it with high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and other toxic metals, according to state environmental records. It has also fouled groundwater, released battery acid onto roads and contaminated homes and yards in surrounding communities with lead emissions.
The agreement with federal officials is intended to allow Exide to continue operating as a viable company — it also recycles batteries at facilities in Missouri and Indiana — so that it can pay for cleanup of the Vernon facility and surrounding neighborhoods, according to the person involved with the negotiations. The Georgia-based company, one of the world’s largest lead-acid battery recyclers and manufacturers, is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and has filed plans to to emerge as a reorganized company. A hearing in the bankruptcy case is scheduled for March 27.
Exide’s battery plants have left a similar legacy of pollution and health concerns across the country.
Since 2012, the company has closed or halted lead recycling operations in Pennsylvania and Texas in the face of pressure from regulators and surrounding residents.
The wide-ranging federal criminal investigation into the company — first disclosed publicly in August — involved its air emissions and transportation of hazardous waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation were also involved in the investigation.
The Vernon plant, which can melt tens of thousands of car batteries a day to provide a source of lead for new batteries, has sat idle for the last year because it could not comply with air quality standards.
The facility had been allowed to operate for decades with only a temporary permit from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The facility has operated in Vernon since 1922 and was taken over by Exide in 2000. The company has repeatedly been cited for violations of environmental regulations by state and local officials in recent years.
Following public outcry, Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed a law requiring regulators to either issue Exide a full permit by the end of 2015 or force the facility to close.
â€œOur long nightmare is over,â€ said Msgr. John Moretta of Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights, whose parishioners had raised health concerns about the facility and rallied for its closure for years. â€œWe now look forward to a thorough and just cleanup of our homes and neighborhoods.â€
Federal officials announced that Exide would permanently close the battery recycling plant under an agreement that allows the company to avoid criminal prosecution despite admitting that it illegally stored and transported hazardousÂ waste. Under the agreement, the company will pay to clean up the site and nearby homes that have been polluted.
The state’s lackluster oversight of the 15-acre battery recycling plant five miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles illustrates the department’sÂ problems, he said, and “those who let this happen must be held accountable.”
Barbara Lee, who took over as DTSC director last year, said she would continue working to improve the agency.
“The department certainly has a very poor reputation right now,” she said. “But I’m very optimistic.”
Lee said the department has struggledÂ withÂ an increasing workload and declining resources. She showed lawmakersÂ a thick binder filled with what she describedÂ as a fraction of the battery recycling plant’s permit application.
The plant, run by Georgia-based Exide Technologies, shut down temporarily last year after a new round of testing found increased levels of lead in nearby soil.
Lee said she informed the company on Feb. 26 that the plant would not be allowed to reopen, which led to negotiations over clean-up costs. The plant had been allowed to operate for decades with only a temporary permit, and complaints about pollution and health hazards had mounted for years. Last year, legislators passed a law requiring the agency to either issue a permit for the plant or force its closure by the end of 2015.
FollowÂ @chrismegerianÂ for more updates from Sacramento.
Victory in Our Time: Exide Plant to Close for Good, First Phase of Clean-Up of Site to Begin Immediately
As news began to trickle out Wednesday night that, under an agreement with the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office,Â embattled lead-acid battery recycler Exide TechnologiesÂ will be forced to permanently shutter its Vernon plant, hope seemed to have finally been restored to those who have spent years clamoring for environmental justice.
In the 15 years since Exide took over operations at the Vernon site, it has repeatedly violated air quality and other standards by improperly storing lead-acid batteries, contaminating a drainage channel with lead, failing to clean up public areas it contaminated around the plant,Â spilling approximately 1136 lbs. of lead into the watershed (between 2003 and 2006),Â exceeding airborne lead emissionsÂ multiple times (including during the period it was closed for upgrades last year), not repairing degraded pipes carrying up to 310,000 gallons of contaminant-laden wastewater a day, and,Â most recently, storing â€œcontaminated sludge in tanks that [it] is not authorized to operate,â€ failing to sufficiently protect against spills of hazardous waste, and â€œfail[ing] to minimize the possibility of any unplanned sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous wastes or hazardous waste constituents to air, soil, or surface water.â€
Most egregiously, Exide managed to accomplish all of these terrible feats while operating on an interim permit, somethingÂ many in the surrounding communities have long viewed as negligenceÂ on the part of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), and other relevant authorities.
Exide didnâ€™t even file its first application for a formal operating permitÂ until 2006. Nor was it hit with any real financial penalties until very recently.Â By the DTSCâ€™s own admission, between 1990 and 2015, it only levied a total of about $2 million in penalties against ExideÂ andÂ its predecessors in 10 separate enforcement actions. A $1.3 million fine â€” the bulk of that total â€” was not levied against Exide until November, 2014.
The agreement to close the plant will therefore be a largely welcome one for most in the surrounding communities (minus, of course, the 130 employees who have now permanently lost their jobs).
But it doesnâ€™t mean weâ€™re quite out of the woods, yet.
First, despite Exideâ€™s long history of violations, the closure agreement allows it to avoid prosecution inÂ the criminal investigationÂ the Attorneyâ€™s Office launched into its emissions history andÂ illegal storageÂ of hazardous materials.
This may be a major oversight.
Exide had been notified of the DTSCâ€™s intention to deny it an operating permit on February 26 â€” well ahead of the formalization of its agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ). Meaning that the plant would have been forced to closeÂ regardlessÂ of the outcome of the criminal investigation.
By signing on to the federal agreement â€” an agreement the DOJ drew up without consulting the DTSC â€” Exide effectively avoids further exploration into the extent of what, if any, criminal wrongdoing it is responsible for and limits the ability of affected residents, the city, or the state to seek redress (outside of existing agreements) for any resulting damages.
Second, both Exideâ€™s ability and its willingness to clean up its own mess are rather suspect.
Thursdayâ€™sÂ DTSC press release about the closureÂ cites concerns regarding Exideâ€™s ability to ensure adequate funding for the safe closure of the facility and the complete cleanup of lead contamination in the surrounding communities as being key to their decision to deny Exide a formal permit.
As DTSC Director Barbara Lee reiterated during a press call Thursday afternoon, given that it is unclear what Exideâ€™s status will be when it emerges fromÂ bankruptcy, those concerns will continue to remain front and center. Not only have the bankruptcy proceedings tied up Exideâ€™s funds for a few years now, but Exide has not hesitated to use the proceedings to its financial advantage. Notably,Â it required that anyone submitting personal damage claimsÂ (e.g. excessive lead in blood, other health issues) do so by the end of January of 2014, well before any of the free blood tests it agreed to pay for could actually be administered to residents of communities affected by lead emissions. And while Exide did comply withÂ the November 2014 orderÂ that it put $2.75 million into a closure financial assurance fund and $3 mil. into a trust fund for residential clean-ups, those funds represent just a fraction of the approximately $50+ mil. the DTSC estimates the final clean-up will eventually cost.
Even assuming Exide does have sufficient funds to conduct a clean-up, follow-through may still be a significant issue.
Last June,Â the DTSCâ€™s assessment of Exideâ€™s third application for a formal operating permit indicatedÂ they had little confidence in Exideâ€™s ability to perform even the most basic of tasks properly, such as conducting sampling or cataloging how much hazardous waste was on site. Specifically, they declared that Exideâ€™s application:
- Fails to provide an accurate cost estimate to ensure Exide can safely clean up the site after it has permanently ceased operations. Specifically, the application fails to accurately describe actions needed to clean up lead contamination throughout the facility, demolish structures, and remove contaminated soil underneath the facility;
- Fails to accurately describe the amount of lead-contaminated waste that needs to be safely removed from the site for treatment and disposal when the facility permanently closes;
- Fails to include a safety assessment of all tanks that hold waste, including tanks that hold acidic hazardous wastes that could overflow during an earthquake;
- Fails to describe all rooms where waste is handled so that it can be safely managed; and
- Fails to describe the correct sampling needed to characterize toxic contamination that must be cleaned up after the facility is permanently closed.
The DTSC subsequently sent Exide aÂ Notice of DeficiencyÂ that carefully detailed its concerns with the application and requested that Exide adjust and resubmit the application within 30 days. Even with that level of assistance, Exide struggled to comply, eventuallyÂ requesting (and receiving) a substantial extensionÂ of the deadline.
Unfortunately, Exideâ€™s struggle to get its act together is not all that surprising.
AsÂ the good people of a number of communities across the U.S. can attest, Exide has quite a legacy of inflicting environmental harm. In Frisco, Texas, where Exide was forced toÂ shut down operationsÂ a little over two years ago, the post-closure clean-up of the area has beenÂ fraught with problemsÂ (including theÂ disappearance of a bucket of potentially contaminated wasteÂ off the back of a truck) andÂ concerns about whether Exide would continue to comply with the settlement agreement. Just last October, Frisco leveled fresh accusations that Exide wasÂ continuing to downplay the contaminationÂ at the former plant site in order to hurry the clean-up process along and minimize costs.
When asked about these failures and oversight mechanisms on the press call, Lee acknowledged Exideâ€™s poor track record, saying, â€œWe have concerns.â€
She went on to cite a recent case in which the DTSC had required Exide to conduct additional sampling under the containment area at the plant only to find that contamination levels were much higher than Exide had previously estimated.
The DTSC, she reiterated, would continue to work closely with the AQMD, the County, and any other relevant authorities, as it has over the last year, to ensure that oversight and enforcement are sufficient. Moreover, she pointed out, by entering into a federal agreement, Exide had granted the DOJ the ability to bring any and all of the necessary resources to bear to ensure the clean-up is conducted properly during the next 10 years.
The first phase of the clean-up should begin immediately, she said. The clean-up, demolition, and removal of the existing plant structure should take between 19 and 22 months. During this time, Exide will be required to continue paying into a clean-up fund, studying the contamination levels at the site, and preparing plans for phase 2 of the process â€” the decontamination of the site and surrounding areas.
Decontamination of residential areas will also continue during this period, Lee added, as will the study and planning for decontamination of residences that fall outside the two assessment areas (those areas pinpointed by emissions modeling as being most likely to have experienced lead contamination) currently undergoing testing and clean-ups.
Although Lee suggested planning for any residential clean-upsÂ outside the boundaries of the existing assessment areasÂ will take place on an accelerated schedule, she could offer no estimate of what that time-frame might be.
She also noted that it was important that the DTSC had recently secured a commitment from Exide to dedicate an additional $5 mil. to the $9 mil. already earmarked for residential clean-ups because, she felt, the clean-ups would â€œprobably cost more than [$9 mil.].â€ The extra funds wonâ€™t be handed over until 2018, but Lee believes there should be enough in the pot to ensure clean-ups can continue in the meanwhile.
Finally, Lee said she understood the skepticism observers might have, both regarding Exide and the ability of the DTSC to oversee the closure of the plant. Before 2013, the DTSC had stopped by to inspect Exideâ€™s operations, on average, once a year. Over the last year and a half, they ratcheted up their oversight and were on site once a month. Now, she has staff on site even more regularly and the DTSC is â€œfully committed,â€ she said, â€œto the protection of public health and the environment.â€
The DTSC will make sure all of the agencies are working together to ensure Exide is complying with the law, she reiterated. â€œYou can watch us going forward.â€
For more information on the DTSCâ€™s monitoring of Exide or to track the clean-up of residential areas, please visit their dedicated webpageÂ here.
Feds Strike Deal to Close Exide Permanently
Deal will allow company to avoid criminal prosecution.
By Gloria Alvarez EGP Staff Writer
Embattled Exide Technologies will permanently shut down its battery recycling plant in Vernon in a deal reached with federal authorities to avoid prosecution on criminal charges, announced the U.S. attorneyâ€™s office Wednesday.
â€œWe have reached a deal with Exide that will result in the immediate and permanent closure of the battery recycling plant,â€ said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s office.
â€œItâ€™s a complicated deal, but we think it will ensure that money is available to pay for tens of millions of dollars in cleanup efforts.â€
The closure comes following years of public outrage over the companyâ€™s numerous violations for toxic chemical emissions and handling of hazardous waste. As many as 110,000 people in Vernon, Boyle Heights, Maywood and other nearby communities were exposed to cancer causing levels of lead and arsenic, state air quality regulators found.
Residents in nearby communities and local elected officials have repeatedly demanded the company be permanently closed.
â€œExide was poisoning our community, it had to be closed,â€ said Rev. Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights, ground zero in the fight to close the Vernon plant.
The agreement calls for Exide to permanently close the plant which, the company admits, produces a host of hazardous wastes, including lead, cadmium, arsenic and volatile organic compounds.
According to the negotiated agreement, Exide will acknowledge the illegal storage and transportation of hazardous waste but avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for shutting down, demolishing and cleaning its 15-acre battery recycling plant.
Smelting operations have been shut down at the Vernon facility since March 2014 as the company worked to install equipment upgrades to comply with state air quality standards. During the closure, however, the company continued to violate air pollution regulations and hazardous waste storage and transportation laws.
Exide is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and according to federal authorities the agreement will allow the company to remain financially solvent so it can make good on an agreement reached last year with state regulators for the company to set aside $38.6 million for closure and cleanup of the facility and to place $9 million in a trust fund to clean lead-tainted soil from surrounding homes in Boyle Heights and Maywood.
At the time, Exide called the â€œagreementâ€ a â€œcrucial step forwardâ€ in its pursuit to re-open its plant, closed since March 2014 as the company worked to upgrade pollution controls and meet other Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) requirements.
Those payments will be expedited under the agreement with federal officials.
â€œPermanently shutting down Exideâ€™s Vernon facility is the best and long-overdue outcome for communities harmed by its dangerous pollution for decades,â€ said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de LeÃ³n (D-Los Angeles).
â€œFor too long, kids and the elderly were left vulnerable to hazardous waste leaking from the plant while the state agency responsible for protecting them failed to do its job,â€ he said, referring to state regulators allowing the company to operate on a temporary permit for decades.
DTSC, the state agency in charge of the permitting process, has repeatedly come under fire for its failure to complete the permitting process or to shut down the plant in the wake of its continuous violations that endangered public health.
A bill signed by the governor last year required the company to get a permanent permit by the end of this year or be shut down.
DTSC has been reviewing Exideâ€™s permit application, and said today they â€œinitiated the process of denying the companyâ€™s permit applicationâ€ last month.
Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens said news of Exideâ€™s permanent closure would â€œbring great relief to his constituents, who for decades have been exposed to toxic levels of lead and arsenic emissions from their Vernon facility.â€
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard called the permanent closure a â€œlandmark public health victory for the 40thDistrict.â€
Exide issued a statement today saying the company would â€œimmediately move to permanently close its lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon,â€ under the terms of the â€œnon-prosecutionâ€ agreement reached with the U.S. attorney that â€œresolves the USAOâ€™s criminal investigation into Exide.â€
The company will request that the Bankruptcy Court approve the agreements as part of its reorganization plan at a hearing scheduled for March 27.
Approval should allow the company to meet its financial commitment, said Robert M. Caruso, President and Chief Executive Officer of Exide Technologies.Â Caruso said the company recognizes the impact the closure will have on the facilityâ€™s 130 employees, and thanked the United Steel Workers Union for their â€œcommitment and dedication,â€ without detailing what if anything will be done to assist the displaced workers.
Lawsuits have been filed against several company executives and the manager of the Exide recycling plant by area residents who allege they and their children were exposed to lead, arsenic and other contaminants.
One complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in January also alleged wrongful death. It was brought by family members of residents who died between June 1998 and May 2013. Plaintiffs attributed the deaths to toxins from the plant that affected the water, soil and air.
When operational, the plant recycled about 25,000 batteries daily. It was one of only two lead-acid battery recycling plants west of the Rockies.
LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
VERNON â€“ Battery recycler Exide Technologies has agreed to immediately and permanently close its Vernon lead-acid battery recycling plant and pay $50 million to clean up the site and surrounding neighborhoods, the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office announced today.
The agreement approved late Wednesday calls for Exide to close a facility that, according to the government, produces a host of hazardous wastes, including lead, cadmium, arsenic and volatile organic compounds.
â€œThe reign of toxic lead ends today,â€ Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said. â€œAfter more than nine decades of ongoing lead contamination … neighborhoods can now start to breathe easier.â€
Exide had planned to resume operations at the recycling facility as early as next month, but the agreement calls for the facility to be shuttered, demolished and cleaned up. The company is also required to expedite the funding of a $9 million trust fund that will be used to clean up 216 nearby residences in Boyle Heights and Maywood.
Robert M. Caruso, Exideâ€™s president and chief executive officer, said he recognizes â€œthe impacts that closing the Vernon facility will have on our approximately 130 employees and their families. On behalf of the company, I thank them.â€
The deal to close the recycling plant is contained in a non-prosecution agreement, or NPA, that Exide and prosecutors finalized late Wednesday.
The U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office in Los Angeles estimated that Exideâ€™s direct costs of compliance are well in excess of $100 million, including the company walking away from recent improvements to the facility and incurring new costs for lead and plastic that must now be purchased to manufacture new batteries.
Prosecutors said they entered into a non-prosecution agreement because negotiations with the bankrupt company revealed that just the threat of criminal charges would almost certainly force its liquidation, leaving government agencies responsible for cleaning up the Vernon plant.
The NPA also opens the door to new funding for the company, which employs thousands of workers in the U.S. and around the world, prosecutors said.
â€œThe agreement with Exide ensures that the Vernon site will be permanently closed, while guaranteeing that the company will survive to adequately finance the clean-up of this long-suffering community,â€ Yonekura said.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, said it was â€œregrettableâ€ that Exide avoided criminal prosecution, but â€œat least the plant is now permanently closed. I hope authorities can swiftly complete the decontamination of the site and its surrounding communities.â€
â€œI have been greatly concerned about the health hazards that the Exide plant poses to my constituents, and that is why I have been a vocal supporter of the plantâ€™s closure,â€ she said. â€œWhile I recognize Exide had made efforts to update the facilityâ€™s air pollution control systems and complete renovations, the reality is that it was too little too late. Given Exideâ€™s history, there was little reason to believe in its promises of corrective action.â€
Jared Blumenfeld, EPAâ€™s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said the closure of Exide â€œis a victory for the residents of Vernon who have suffered from decades of toxic pollution.â€
â€œTodayâ€™s announcement shows that companies who fail to meet federal environmental laws will face serious consequences,â€ he said.
Bell Mayor Nestor Enrique Valencia said Exideâ€™s contamination of the environment â€œis inexcusable and will continue harming us for years to come,â€ adding that a new hospital specializing in cancer and birth defects should be part of any settlement.
In addition to the commitments to close the Vernon facility and pay for associated clean-up costs, Exide has acknowledged criminal conduct, including the illegal storage, disposal, shipment and transportation of hazardous waste.
In the NPA, Exide admits that it â€œknowingly and willfully caused the shipment of hazardous waste contaminated with lead and corrosive acidâ€ in leaking van trailers from Vernon to Bakersfield and did so â€œa significant number of times over the past two decades, in violation of federal law.â€
Each incident could be charged as a felony violation of the federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, according to the document.
Prosecutors said the admissions of criminal violations were important because Exide agreed that it could be prosecuted at any time over the next 10 years if it fails to abide by the terms of the NPA.
A violation would include failing to adequately finance clean-up efforts at the recycling facility, a program that will be overseen by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
DTSC Director Barbara Lee said the departmentâ€™s priority is to ensure the safe closure of the Exide plant and to complete the cleanup of contaminated yards in the surrounding neighborhoods.
She said the departmentâ€™s decision to close the plant was based on such factors as Exideâ€™s inability to meet safety standards, failure to certify the structural integrity of a containment building used to hold hundreds of tons of lead, and poor history of compliance with environmental and health protection laws.
â€œDTSC will use every tool and legal mechanism at its disposal to ensure that Exideâ€™s remaining resources are used to properly close the facility and clean up contaminationâ€ in nearby neighborhoods, Lee said.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said that news of Exideâ€™s closing brings relief to his constituents, â€œwho for decades have been exposed to toxic levels of lead and arsenic emissionsâ€ from the plant.
â€œBut the legacy impacts of this facility will not go away overnight,â€ Lara said. â€œTo truly understand the magnitude of this issue, we need a comprehensive review of soil contamination and better data on the health impacts to people who continue to be exposed to unhealthy levels of lead and arsenic. We need to ensure that this deal adequately holds Exide morally and financially accountable for the damage they have caused. Impacted families deserve no less.â€
City Councilman Jose Huizar blamed the DTSC for allowing the company to operate with a temporary permit for more than 30 years.
â€œThis is what can happen when you allow a company that deals with toxic chemicals to operate with a temporary permit for decades,â€ he said. â€œExideâ€™s actions and criminal activity should serve as a warning to state regulators to do a much-better job in the future. While Exideâ€™s closing is welcome news, our communities deserve nothing less than a full cleanup of the toxic mess this company has made.â€