Communities in and around East Los Angeles have long sought to permanently shutter the Exide Technologies lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon, Ca. Since last week they have been cheering the news that the facility will close for good. To avoid criminal liability for decades of pollution in these low-income communities of color, Exide agreed with federal prosecutors on March 11 to shut down its Vernon facility.
Under the agreement, Exide admits to felony violations of federal hazardous waste laws (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) for knowingly causing the illegal storage, disposal, and transport of hazardous waste in leaking van trailers from Exide to a facility not permitted for hazardous waste. Exide also agreed to proceed with closure and cleanup of the Vernon site, as well as cleanup in the surrounding community pursuant to existing agreements with state.
Ensuring the full and speedy cleanup of both the site and in particular the community is sure to be an ongoing battle. Existing agreements require Exide to set aside $38.6 million in installments for the closure and cleanup of the site itself, and $9 million in installments for off-site cleanup of up to 216 homes in two small areas closest to the facility. But the full extent of the contamination will be known only with thorough testing across a much larger area. While this further study is required under the existing agreements, it has not yet been done. So we simply do not know yet what it will take to fully address the whole problem, or whether all those involved will remain committed to that effort.
In the coming months and years, continued vigilance will be required to ensure that complete and speedy testing identifies the full extent of the contamination caused by Exide, and that a full cleanup quickly follows. Like the community, we stand ready to ensure just that.