Exide Technologies runs a lead-acid recycling operation in Vernon, California that has been emitting lead and arsenic into the neighboring communities for many years. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) held its first hearing on Saturday, December 14 on its request that an Order for Abatement issue to shut Exide’s Vernon operation until Exide makes upgrades to its pollution control systems to reduce arsenic pollution. You can read SCAQMD’s request here. My NRDC colleague Melissa Lin Perrella and I attended the hearing on the campus of Cal State LA.
Hundreds of community members attended the hearing and many spoke of their desire to shut Exide down. The Hearing Board allowed all community members to speak, despite Exide’s request to limit public testimony to the technical issues arising from the Order for Abatement. Some of the most powerful testimony came from Father John Moretta of the Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights, who has seen his parishoners affected by pollution from Exide for decades; you can read about his remarks in the LA Times story about the hearing here.
Exide recycles used automobile batteries at the rate of 20,000 to 40,000 per day. That is a lot of batteries! Exide melts down the old batteries in two furnaces and creates lead ingots which it then sells. The heart of the Order for Abatement proceeding is whether those furnaces are required to maintain negative pressure inside , so that any airflow is into the furnace, not out of it, and no “fugitive emissions” from the lead smelting process escape into the air. Exide does not dispute that its furnaces don’t have this feature, but claim that they are not required to have it under Exide’s existing permits and SCAQMD rules. Exide also claims that its processes are now so clean that there is no appreciable excess health risk to the community and so no reason to shut it down. These legal and technical issues will be resolved in a series of hearings; the next is January 7, 2014 at SCAQMD headquarters in Diamond Bar.
On a different track, SCAQMD is working on a regulation that, among other things, would clearly require Exide and a neighboring lead-acid battery recycler, Quemetco, to maintain negative pressure in their furnaces and to meet certain emissions standards for lead and arsenic. Lead is a very dangerous neurotoxin whose negative effects on IQ and learning ability can last a lifetime. Arsenic is a known carcinogen. Melissa and I have attended a number of working groups on this proposed regulation, which is scheduled for consideration before the Governing Board of the SCAQMD on January 10, 2014. Based on industry comments so far, I’d say that Exide will likely do everything it can to avoid further regulation, including pursuing litigation.
The Exide situation is very important for the East L.A. community and for SCAQMD. I’ll write again after the January 7, 2014 hearing.