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Elected Officials, Residents Scold State Regulators for Exide’s Continued Non-Compliance

Three elected officials on Tuesday expressed their commitment to helping residents of Boyle Heights and others affected communities shut down a lead acid battery recycling plant in Vernon, which has repeatedly emitted harmful chemicals into the air and soil while operating on a temporary permit for over 30 years.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Funcionarios y Residentes Regañan a Reguladores por Contaminación Continuo Proveniente de Exide [1]

State Sen. Kevin de León hosted the Town Hall in Boyle Heights to discuss issues related to Exide Technologies in Vernon. He was joined by Sen. Ricardo Lara, Assembly Speaker John Pérez and area residents who angrily told state and local regulators that they are not doing enough to protect the health of hundreds of thousands of people living and working in the area.

Teresa Marquez said she is worried about future generations. (From L to R) Sen. Kevin De Leon, Assembly Speaker John Perez and Sen. Ricardo Lara led the town hall at Resurrection Church on Tuesday night.  (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo) [2]

Teresa Marquez said she is worried about future generations. (From L to R) Sen. Kevin De Leon, Assembly Speaker John Perez and Sen. Ricardo Lara led the town hall at Resurrection Church on Tuesday night.
(EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Pérez called on the regulators to understand the frustration of residents, noting that this is only the most recent, not the first, town hall meeting on Exide, which has been an air quality offender for years, but is still allowed to continue operating.

“Generations feel ignored by the very people who are supposed to protect them,” Pérez said. “When you look at the decades of harm on this community, it is incumbent on you to do everything… you have got to do everything in your power to shut down repeat offenders.”

The often-raucous meeting lasted two hours longer than originally planned and took place in the auditorium of Resurrection Church where community activists and Neighborhood Watch members have been organizing to force the permanent closure of the battery recycler.

Air and toxic substance control authorities and the director of the LA County Department Public Health, which will be administering blood testing to residents in the designated area, made presentations and took questions.

Residents were for the most part unsatisfied with answers to their questions from regulators, with the audience from time to time angrily breaking into a chorus of shout to “shut it down!”

Pérez put Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) Director Debbie Raphael and AQMD Executive Officer Barry R. Wallerstein on the spot, asking them if they believed the plant should be allowed to continue to operate or shut down based on its track record?

Raphael told Pérez she didn’t know, but earlier in the meeting she said DTSC had already shut down Exide once, and they are not done yet.

“We are not walking away” from the problem, Raphael said.

The crowd wasn’t impressed with her answer, however, and continued to give Raphael and Wallerstein a tough time.

On Monday, DTSC announced it had reached an agreement with Exide, and that the   Stipulation and Order would require the company to set aside $7.7 million to pay for upgrades to reduce arsenic emissions, replace the leaking piping system, conduct lead blood testing for residents, and to do dust and soil sampling in the area.

While the order first needs to be approved by the bankruptcy judge, DTSC and AQMD consider it a partial victory. Residents, however, aren’t looking for an agreement that resolves or lifts the suspension order issued by DTSC in April. They don’t want Exide to be left off the hook and allowed to continue to operate.

On Monday, Exide representatives told CNS they have already begun working on a $4 million upgrade to the plant’s underground storm-water piping system and “high-efficiency filters.”

Residents, aware of a Dow Jones Business News report that states Exide will pay four times that amount, $16 million, in bonuses to employees under its restructuring plan, believe the amount of money to pay for upgrades and testing is woefully insufficient.

Nonetheless, despite constant calls to shut Exide down, regulators said they are obligated to follow due process in dealing with Exide. They said legislators can help by approving legislation for stiffer penalties for non-compliance that will also prevent polluters from reopening.

Pérez responded by telling regulators to use some “creativity” to bring justice to those who have been exposed to contamination coming from Exide for decades.

Asked what it would take for the plant to be shut down, regulators said there has to be evidence that the plant poses an eminent danger to residents and that it does not have the ability to operate safely: something residents say has already been proven.

Speaker after speaker called for additional tests to check for chemicals such as arsenic and benzene. Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez and others said they aren’t satisfied with the county health department director’s assertion that that arsenic testing is too complicated.

“We have baby teeth [that you can use for testing]!” Marquez shouted from her seat.

In the meantime, AQMD is reviewing Exide’s risk reduction plan and a California Environmental Quality Act study is happening concurrently with the permitting process, Wallerstein said.

DTSC’s Brian Johnson said not issuing the permit could set in motion shutting the plant down.

During his presentation, Wallerstein said AQMD is not comfortable that the testing at the facility is reflecting regular operation levels, that the pollution control devices are working properly and that the outdated designs of the equipment at the plant keep breaking down.

“Frankly, its an embarrassment that this plant is not able to operate within the rules and regulations,” Wallerstein said.

In 2013, AQMD has had 83 site inspections and issued four notices of noncompliance, with a couple more being issued his week, Wallerstein said.

Michael Arellano, a Boyle Heights resident, told elected officials and regulators that he and others had received a claim form regarding Exide’s bankruptcy and they didn’t know how to respond to it. De León said they would talk to Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard’s office about maybe having a meeting on this topic before the fast approaching deadline of Oct. 31.

Exide’s next bankruptcy hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5.