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Vernon-based Recycling Company Guilty of Dangerous Emissions

A company that recycles batteries has been blanketing up to 110,000 residents in southeast Los Angeles County with dangerous arsenic emissions, smog agency officials said on March 23.

Exide Technologies located in Vernon has been ordered to cut its emissions that have elevated the risk of cancer in its surrounding area. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The South Coast Air Quality Control Board has ordered Exide Technologies in Vernon to immediately reduce emissions of the cancer-causing element, and ordered the company to hold a public meeting to explain what happened to neighbors and workers in the area.

The AQMD said persons affected by the emissions include residents of Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce, Boyle Heights and unincorporated East Los Angeles.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Compañía Basada en Vernon en Problemas por Contaminación del Aire [1]

The company announced it will conduct public meetings in May aimed at informing residents of their risk of cancer from the arsenic emissions released by the facility.

Emissions from the battery recycler have elevated cancer risk in surrounding areas to a point where 156 cancer cases per million people can be expected to develop. The standard from public notification of the danger is 10 per million, AQMD officials said.

“We are working with Exide to take immediate steps to reduce their emissions and the associated risk,” said SCAQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein. “Meanwhile, Exide must follow a strict timeline to implement a long-term solution.”

Exide Technologies is located west of the Vernon Rail Yard, in an industrial area between the Union Pacific rail tracks and the L.A. River, west of the Long Beach (710) Freeway. On the other side of the tracks is the Union Pacific neighborhood in East Los Angeles.

Most of the risk would be to people who work in the industrial areas of Vernon, and the risk would dissipate greatly further away from the plant, according to the AQMD.

This is not the first time Exide has been cited by the AQMD. In 2010, EGP reported that between 2007 and 2010, Exide was issued 16 Notices of Violation, resulting in 84 inspections during that period, according to a report by Mohsen Nazemi, AQMD Deputy Executive Officer.

In late 2007, early 2008 and early 2009, Exide violated both AQMD and state lead standards, and at one point Exide’s Permit was amended to allow only half the production until the company was in compliance, according to the AQMD report.

Other violations included improper handling of lead contaminated materials, recordkeeping and equipment maintenance. The company’s compliance plan required process and building improvements, site clean up, and more air monitoring.

Los Angeles Councilmember José Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, released a statement demanding that Exide address the current unacceptable exposure levels immediately, regardless of the financial costs.

“I am outraged and appalled by the recent findings of high levels of arsenic and cancer risks associated with operations at Exide Technologies,” said Huizar. “The AQMD must use all of its authority to protect residents from dangerous emissions, and I intend to work closely with them to control this polluter.”

Sen. Kevin De Leon, who represents the 22nd District that includes Vernon and East Los Angeles, told EGP that Vernon must work with AQMD to ensure job creation and job expansion can coexist with a clean environment.

“We want all businesses to flourish, but we don’t want that to happen at the expense of the residents in the neighborhoods surrounding Vernon,” De Leon said.

The community meeting is required by state law, and will allow people to get information and ask questions.

Vernon’s Independent Reform Monitor, John Van De Kamp, told EGP that Vernon must make sure that the business’ emissions are within the norm.

“This may be something the city must dig into with other agencies to make sure that those kind of [emissions] are avoided,” said Van De Kamp.

AQMD has implemented regulations since the late 2000s, which have successfully reduced lead emissions from Exide Technologies. The company is now in compliance with the federal health standard for outdoor levels of lead.

For more information about Exide’s health risk assessment and the public notification process visit www.aqmd.gov. Information from City News Service was used in this story.