County Joins Debate Over Exide’s Future

By Elizabeth Marcellino, City News Service

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday entered the ongoing debate over whether a battery recycler and manufacturer accused of polluting local communities with toxins should be allowed to continue to operate in the city of Vernon.

Supervisor sought options to control arsenic and other pollutants from the Exide Technologies plant that recently reopened following a state shutdown on April 24 in response to an order from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, citing health risks from arsenic emissions.

The company, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of lead-acid batteries, then filed for bankruptcy protection, saying it needed the supply of lead from the recycling plant to maintain its profitability. It sought a court order to restart operations at the plant, which employs roughly 60 workers.

On June 16, citing irreparable harm to the company, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin ruled that the plant could reopen pending a July 2 hearing on the matter.

Emissions of lead and arsenic affect more than the 110,000 people in the surrounding communities, Supervisor Gloria Molina said Tuesday.

“Air pollution doesn’t observe any boundaries,” Molina said, pointing to a map showing a plume of pollution stretching as far as South Pasadena.

“It’s not just the health of southeast county residents that is at stake.”

Residents and Maywood officials charged that equipment was available to solve the problem, but accused Exide of trying to avoid the cost of effective controls.

“They want to get away with the cheapest possible solution,” Maywood City Councilman Felipe Aguirre told the board.

Exide has reduced emissions by more than 70 percent since 2010 and plans to “continue to implement our planned storm water and air quality control improvements,” according to a company statement issued in response to the court’s ruling allowing the plant to reopen.

“Working constructively with the community, Exide intends to continue running a premier facility in compliance with regulatory standards,” the statement says.

The plant increases the risk of cancer for workers and residents, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Several residents told the board Tuesday about friends and relatives suffering from or lost to cancer that they believe was caused by the plant pollution.

A report by Exide to the AQMD calculated a maximum individual cancer risk of 156 in a million for those working near the facility, which is located in a largely industrial area. That risk is far above the agency’s public threshold of 10 in one million. The agency ordered Exide to find ways to reduce that risk, suggested installing wet electrostatic precipitators and set a deadline of Sept. 1 for a report back.

By unanimous vote, the board directed its lawyers to prepare a confidential report identifying all legal and administrative options available to prevent toxic emissions from the plant.

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June 27, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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