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QUEMETCO / CITY OF INDUSTRY MEDIA ROUNDUP – South Coast Air Quality Management District orders RSR Corp.-owned Quemetco lead smelter officials to notify 12,000 residents near its City of Industry facility (residents in Avocado Heights, City of Industry, La Puente and Hacienda Heights) about increased risk of cancer because of smelter’s arsenic emissions; SQAQMD report shows smelter poses cancer burden of 0.66 excess cancer cases, and it must reduce burden to 0.5 or less

The Quemetco lead smelter is owned by RSR Corporation, which is a Dallas, TX-based, privately held secondary lead smelting company that operates lead acid battery recycling facilities in California, Indiana, and New York .

“…Based on its 2014 emissions, Quemetco’s HRA showed that it posed a cancer burden of 0.66 excess cancer cases primarily due to arsenic emissions. Under SCAQMD’s Rule 1402 the facility must reduce its cancer burden to 0.5 or less. A cancer burden is a calculation of the number of total people estimated to get cancer due to a facility’s emissions over several decades.

Quemetco has also applied to SCAQMD for permits to increase its production by 25 percent and switch the fuel used in its furnaces from calcined coke to petroleum coke, also known as “pet coke.” However in order to receive these permits the company would have to demonstrate that the increased production and alternative fuel would not exceed any of the agency’s risk thresholds. SCAQMD will be initiating a public process later this year to develop an Environmental Impact Report on the proposed production increase and fuel change…”


Lead-Acid Battery Recycling Facility Must Notify Public, Reduce Public Health Risk

May 17, 2016
South Coast Air Quality Management District officials today formally notified Quemetco, Inc., that it must reduce its cancer risk to residents by ensuring lower arsenic emissions, a byproduct of the facility’s lead smelting operations.  Within 30 days, Quemetco must notify about 12,000 residents near its City of Industry facility of the risk.
“Quemetco has already reduced its emissions during recent years,” said Kurt Wiese, general counsel for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “The steps that Quemetco must take to ensure even lower emissions will benefit public health, particularly for residents living near the facility.”
Quemetco, located at 720 S. 7th Ave. in the City of Industry, recycles lead-acid batteries in its lead smelter.  Residents in portions of Avocado Heights, City of Industry, La Puente and Hacienda Heights will be notified of the health risk and an upcoming public meeting conducted by SCAQMD where the risk will be discussed.
The meeting will take place in the next one to two months in the community near the facility. For more information on the facility see SCAQMD’s web page at
In 2013, SCAQMD required Quemetco to conduct a detailed study of its emissions and health risk called a health risk assessment (HRA) under the state’s Air Toxics Hot Spots law, also known as AB2588.
In March 2015, the state’s health risk agency updated its cancer risk guidelines resulting in a five-fold increase in the calculated risk from arsenic for the same exposure level.
The updated guidelines, approved by the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), resulted from an extensive review showing that previous protocols had underestimated cancer risk primarily due to the increased susceptibility of infants and children to air toxics.

In June 2015, SCAQMD began implementation of the new state guidelines as required by law.The higher cancer risk for arsenic increased Quemetco’s risk above SCAQMD’s regulatory risk thresholds and triggered requirements for both public notification and risk reduction.

Quemetco now has 180 days to develop a risk reduction plan showing how it will ensure a reduction in risk below required thresholds. Once approved by SCAQMD, Quemetco must achieve the risk reduction as quickly as possible, but no later than three years after the risk reduction plan is approved.

Based on its 2014 emissions, Quemetco’s HRA showed that it posed a cancer burden of 0.66 excess cancer cases primarily due to arsenic emissions. Under SCAQMD’s Rule 1402 the facility must reduce its cancer burden to 0.5 or less. A cancer burden is a calculation of the number of total people estimated to get cancer due to a facility’s emissions over several decades.

Quemetco has also applied to SCAQMD for permits to increase its production by 25 percent and switch the fuel used in its furnaces from calcined coke to petroleum coke, also known as “pet coke.” However in order to receive these permits the company would have to demonstrate that the increased production and alternative fuel would not exceed any of the agency’s risk thresholds. SCAQMD will be initiating a public process later this year to develop an Environmental Impact Report on the proposed production increase and fuel change.

SCAQMD’s Rule 1420.1 – Emissions Standard for Lead from Large Lead-Acid Battery Recycling Facilities has imposed strict controls for lead, arsenic and other toxic air contaminants including benzene and 1,3 butadiene at lead-acid battery recycling facilities.  Since adoption of Rule 1420.1 in 2010, and through subsequent amendments to the rule, both the ambient and point source lead limits have been tightened by more than 90 percent.

SCAQMD is closely coordinating its activities with other environmental agencies conducting environmental assessments and remediation, including the state Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

SCAQMD required Quemetco to conduct an HRA in the mid-2000s, which resulted in Quemetco significantly reducing its lead and other air toxic emissions and related health risk by installing an advanced pollution control system known as a Wet Electrostatic Precipitator.

SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.



Toxic battery plant has to tell its 12,000 neighbors they might get cancer

A smelter in the Los Angeles area has 30 days to tell its 12,000 neighbors that the plant’s arsenic emissions put them at a high risk for developing cancer. It also has to come up with a plan to reduce those emissions — but that could take years, if it happens at all.Quemetco operates a lead-acid battery recycling plant in City of Industry, a largely Latino community in the San Gabriel Valley, east of downtown L.A. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) notified the company on Tuesday that it must inform neighbors of the high cancer risk its operation poses in City of Industry and three adjacent communities. As it happens, all four are neighborhoods full of people of color, mostly Latino and Asian.The arsenic, a carcinogen, gets into the air as a byproduct of Quemetco’s lead smelting. But health officials didn’t consider the level at which the plant emits arsenic life-threatening until about a year ago, when the state updated its health risk assessment standards. After an extensive evaluation, the state determined that previous guidelines had underestimated the consequences of toxic emissions such as arsenic, especially for children.Aside from having 30 days to inform its neighbors of the high cancer risk, Quemetco has 180 days to come up with a proposal to reduce its arsenic emissions in line with AQMD’s standards. Once regulators approve its new proposal, the plant then has another three years to implement it. That means it could take nearly four years for Quemetco’s neighbors to finally breathe a small sigh of relief. And that’s only if things go according to plan.Quemetco’s lead-acid battery recycling plant – the only one operating in the western U.S. – hasn’t had a great record of complying with air-pollution regulations. California’s toxic substances agency outlined a plan to test for arsenic and lead within a half-mile radius to Quemetco last October. The company opposed the plan, claiming that it was impossible to know whether Quemetco or another company was polluting the area. The two struck a deal, which initially limits the scope of testing to a smaller, quarter-mile area Quemetco suggested.The AQMD confirms that Wayne Nastri, who took over as the agency’s top executive last month, recused himself from any decisions on the plant because Quemetco is his former client.CLICK HERE TO READ STORY



Battery recycler Quemetco told to reduce cancer risk from arsenic emissions

BY Tony Barboza

Air quality officials have told a battery recycling plant in the City of Industry to cut its arsenic emissions after an assessment found they posed an increased cancer risk to 12,000 people.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District on Tuesday gave lead-acid battery smelter Quemetco Inc. 30 days to notify residents of Avocado Heights, City of Industry, La Puente and Hacienda Heights of their health risks and six months to submit a plan to reduce arsenic emissions.

Craig Moyer, an attorney for Quemetco, called the 2013 emissions level that exceeded cancer risk thresholds an “outlier test” and said the facility has reduced its pollution each year since.

Air quality regulators emphasized that the higher cancer risk at Quemetco is not from an increase in emissions, but was instead triggered by more stringent state guidelines.

Those guidelines estimate cancer risk from breathing arsenic and other toxic air pollutants is more than three times higher than previously thought, even at the same level of exposure. The changes, adopted last year, reflected what scientists now believe was an underestimate of the health risks infants and children face from air pollution.

The findings will affect the company’s permit applications before the air district, which seek to increase its production by 25% and to operate around the clock.

“We’re not surprised,” said Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez with the Clean Air Coalition of North Whittier and Avocado Heights. “This result confirms for us why we’re opposed to their application to process more batteries.”

The company acknowledged Tuesday that it would have to take steps to ensure that expanding its production will not increase the cancer risk.

The air district said it would hold a public meeting in the next two months to inform the community about health risks from Quemetco’s operations.

After a similar health risk assessment in the mid-2000s found an elevated cancer risk, Quemetco paid more than $25 million to install an advanced pollution control system called a Wet Electrostatic Precipitator. Air quality officials say that equipment has significantly reduced emissions of lead and other toxic air pollutants.

Still, Quemetco has been cited several times in the last two years for violating emissions standards for benzene, a carcinogen, and once for releasing too much arsenic, according to air district records.

Quemetco spokesman Dan Kramer said its July 2014 arsenic citation was for an emissions violation on a single day and has not been repeated. He called the benzene violations “a technical disagreement” with air quality regulators over the appropriate testing method.

The latest findings of an elevated cancer risk come more than a year after Quemetco’s main competitor, Exide Technologies in Vernon, closed down permanently to avoid criminal charges as part of a deal with federal prosecutors after years of lead and arsenic pollution. The state is now ramping up a massive effort to test and clean thousands of homes near the shuttered Exide plant.

State toxic waste regulators have also required Quemetco to investigate lead contamination in surrounding neighborhoods. Starting this summer, state toxic waste regulators will oversee an effort by the company to test the soil of as many as 300 homes near the plant.

Overmyer-Velazquez said the air district’s cancer risk finding “makes us even more concerned that there will be levels of lead and arsenic in the soil that will need to be cleaned up.”

The Department of Toxic Substances Control is reviewing Quemetco’s application to renew its hazardous waste permit, with a decision expected by the summer of 2018.

With the closure of Exide, Quemetco, which has operated in Industry since 1959, is the only remaining lead-acid battery smelter west of the Mississippi, according to the company.

Wayne Nastri, a former industry consultant who was hired last month as the South Coast air district’s executive officer, has recused himself from decisions about Quemetco because he represented Quemetco and its parent company, Texas-based RSR Corp.





Quemetco will begin testing soil for lead in early summer

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Starting in early summer, Quemetco, Inc. will sample soil within a quarter-mile of its facility. That will cover more than 230 residential properties, more than 25 commercial/industrial sites and several public areas, including storm drains and the bottoms of San Jose and Puente Creeks, according to the final workplan.

If high lead levels are found and tied to the company, then the testing will be expanded up to a mile radius from the plant, an area that could include up to 1,000 homes, according to the state.

“What DTSC cares about is any lead that is contaminating the soil,”  said Dot Lofstrom, the division chief at Toxic Substances Control who is overseeing the Quemetco process.  “They have to go as far as they need to go until they have demonstrated to DTSC satisfaction that there is no longer lead associated with Quemetco.”

So far only the soil sampling plan has been worked out. Quemetco is expected to submit the implementation plan for the testing to Toxic Substances Control by Friday.

The goal of the sampling is to identify residential properties with lead levels higher than 80 parts per million and commercial sites with levels above 320 ppm.

If Quemetco finds high levels of lead during the soil sampling the state will order a cleanup, which will require the development of a plan for that process, Lofstrom said.

The company is paying for the soil sampling and will fund any necessary cleanup, according to the state.

One issue that remains unresolved is determining the source of any contamination. Quemetco has asked the state for more time to create a new “fingerprinting” process – which will determine where the lead originated. The company was supposed to submit a plan for it in January but requested more time. The protocol is now due Friday.

Lofstrom said it doesn’t really matter to the state if the company comes up with a fingerprinting plan, because unless it can prove it is not responsible for the lead, any cleanup will be its responsibility.

Toxic Substances Control has invited the public to a community meeting on April 27 for an update on the sampling and testing plans.

This is the latest development in a decades long battle between Quemetco and the state agency.

Quemetco is the second lead battery recycler in the region to be ordered to test soil for lead. Exide, in Vernon, was shuttered by the state in 2013. Regulators are testing and cleaning up a 1.7 mile radius around the plant that could involve up to 10,000 homes.

In the City of Industry, the state first determined 25 years ago that there is lead in the neighborhoods around the plant. But it did not take any action at that time.

Over the years, the Toxic Substances Control penalized the company for not disposing of waste properly and required it to clean up soil on the perimeter of the plant. Quemetco has also been cited by the Air Quality Management District and Los Angeles County in the past.

In 2008, Quemetco installed equipment to drastically reduce its lead emissions.

In 2012, Toxic Substances Control again found high levels of lead around the plant and ordered the company to submit a plan to deal with it.

Quemetco and the state finally reached agreement last month on how to proceed in assessing what the state agency considers legacy pollution, spewed between the 1960s and the mid-2000s.




Exide and Quemetco: Comparing the Clean Up of L.A.’s Lead Battery Plants

The following guest post was written by attorney, Caroline Reiser, who is currently working at NRDC’s Santa Monica office for the Southern California Air Program.

Located within 20 miles of each other, Exide Technologies of Vernon, CA, and Quemetco Battery Recycling in City of Industry, CA are the only two battery recyclers in the U.S. west of the Rockies. Both facilities recover lead from car batteries which they smelt into ingots and then sell. And that’s not all they have in common. As many in the local community have learned, both facilities have a long history of polluting which seems to finally be catching up to them.

Without the right controls, the recycling process that occurs at Exide and Quemetco can release into the environment hazardous toxins, such as lead, a neurotoxin with effects on IQ and learning ability, and arsenic, a carcinogen. Not only are these toxins emitted into the air to be inhaled, they can also be deposited on the ground, accumulate in dirt, and be tracked into houses where they can then be inhaled or ingested. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) regulates the pollutants released into the air, while the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) deals with the pollutants that end up in the soil. DTSC has a long and sorry history of ignoring the soil pollution caused by Exide and Quemetco, but in the last two years DTSC has been facing up to just how much damage Exide and Quemetco have caused in the surrounding communities.

Soil testing in 2014 of homes and schools near Exide showed lead levels above the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s screening level; some lead levels were over 10 times the screening level. DTSC announced in August 2015 that lead dust may have polluted as many as 10,000 homes. Admitting felony violations of federal law (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA), Exide agreed in March to shut down the Vernon facility in order to avoid criminal charges. The company has also agreed to spend $38.6 million to clean up the facility and $9 million to clean the nearest homes, a process that was started in late 2015. Unfortunately, with sampling still to be done and Exide having declared bankruptcy, it’s unclear whether there is enough funding to complete the job. Extrapolating from the ongoing costs of home cleanups, the total bill could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars – money that neither Exide nor DTSC has on hand.

Following the debacle at Exide, this year DTSC decided that Quemetco also needs to determine how much it has polluted its community. Over the last few months, DTSC and Quemetco have traded workplans laying out the process Quemetco will follow in testing for pollutants like lead and arsenic. DTSC, unsatisfied with the draft plan Quemetco submitted in August, finalized a plan on its own in October. Quemetco, however, opposed this October workplan, essentially because the company doesn’t believe it is responsible for all of the toxins located in the area. Lead, for example, can also be present in a community from paints and gasoline. Quemetco argues that it therefore unfair to bear the cost of testing for the toxins without first determining where any contamination originated. This seems backwards to us. DTSC compromised with Quemetco and agreed that the company could start testing in a small area, a ¼ mile radius out from the facility. Only if high levels of toxins are found in this small testing area will the company have to continue sampling, expanding to an area of at least a ½ mile radius, if not more.

DTSC has also given Quemetco until early January to finalize a chemical fingerprint technology, the process for determining if any toxin discovered originated from the facility. While it can seem obvious who the culprit is based on the location and high levels of a toxin, by looking at things like the particle size, types of contaminants, and weather conditions, it’s possible to determine more definitely the source of the toxins.

Exide had complications with fingerprinting. DTSC originally caved to industry pressure not to use fingerprint technology at the Exide site, claiming it would be impossible to use. In the end, DTSC and Exide agreed to clean up first, and then figure out the fingerprinting.

It’s encouraging to see that, unlike with Exide, with Quemetco DTSC has put its foot down and required the company to figure out the fingerprinting in the beginning. We’ll be watching to see what Quemetco suggests, to ensure adequate testing is done and that Quemetco and Exide clean up their act.



Senior Attorney, Southern California Air program

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