Community Celebrates Exide Closure, But Doubts Remain

March 19, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

When news broke last summer that a grand jury was investigating Exide Technologies, community activists celebrated with cake and pizza at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.

Last weekend, following the announcement that the U.S. Attorney had reached an agreement to close down the plant permanently, they were back at the Church, this time celebrating with tequila and champagne.

Over 200 people were on hand to exalt the closure of the embattled acid-lead battery recycling plant in nearby Vernon.

Environmental activist joined together last week in East Los Angeles to celebrate the closure of the Exide plant in Vernon. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Environmental activist joined together last week in East Los Angeles to celebrate the closure of the Exide plant in Vernon. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The agreement calls for the immediate, permanent closure of Exide’s plant and for the company to spend millions to clean up the facility and nearby properties polluted by its toxic emissions. In exchange, the company and its executives will avoid criminal prosecution for its admitted decades long illegal handling of hazardous waste.

The mood Saturday was cheerful, food was plentiful and everyone, from the elected officials to the community activists and local residents, was smiling ear to ear on the “historic night.”

“Let’s continue the struggle, but tonight we celebrate,” Rev. Monsignor John Moretta told the crowd, drawing loud applause.

Last Thursday – the day the news broke – the regular bi-weekly meeting of environmental justice advocates East Yard Communities and Communities for a Better Environment to discuss the ongoing struggle with Exide, was replaced with music, hot dogs and dancing.

Modesta Carranza hosted the event in East Los Angeles and called the festivity a “celebration among neighbors,” with neighbors coming from Huntington Park, Maywood, Boyle Heights and beyond.

“In the long struggle for the civil rights of the Chicano/Latino community, it’s hard getting a victory,” so we have to celebrate them when they come, said Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council President Carlos Montes during the event.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns, center, is applauded by Eastside residents during a special dinner at Ressurection Church Sunday night.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns, center, is applauded by Eastside residents during a special dinner at Ressurection Church Sunday night. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Credit for the hard-fought victory belongs to the community, people at both events said.

“Money was against us but we did it with people power,” said 78-year-old Arturo Herrera. “We’ve been fighting for so long,” and now we know “what justice means.”

If you live in a low-income, immigrant community it’s harder to get government to listen to you, said East L.A. resident Victoria Zepeda.

“It takes many hands to make a masa (dough),” said Moretta before naming all the organizations that helped raise awareness of the environmental injustice.

Mark Lopez from East Yard Communities celebrated with his mother and daughter in East L.A. and reflected on how many generations were forced to endure Exide’s toxic emissions before action was finally taken.

“I never thought I would see the day,” echoed his mother Elsa Lopez, whose fight to close the plant goes back decades with the Mothers of East L.A.

Behind all the celebrations and feelings of victory, however, there remains nagging doubt, state regulators are up to the task of forcing Exide to live up to its agreement with federal authorities.

There is also anger that no one will be criminally prosecuted for releasing lead, arsenic and other toxins into the air and groundwater, exposing over 100,000 people to cancer causing levels of toxic chemicals.

It’s hard to forget how long it’s taken elected officials and regulators to act, said many of the people involved in the anti-Exide movement.

“Nobody believed how bad it was,” said Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez. They did not believe this could be going on in a state with so many environmental protection laws, she said. But Marquez never believed claims by Exide and state officials that the company was not a danger to the community.

“We knew Exide would lie, but DTSC and AQMD? We wanted to trust them,” she angrily recalls.

Terry Cano was not sure how to feel when she heard Exide was being forced to close because she never thought she would live to see the day.

“My first reaction was shock, I was happy,” said Cano. But “I really got angry and disappointed” when I heard the terms of the agreement, said the Boyle Heights resident.

“They literally got away with murder,” she said in disgust.

Mark Lopez shares the sentiment.  “When crime is committed in our neighborhoods we go to jail, sometimes we’re even deported, so for them to just pay a fine and leave is ridiculous,” said the clearly disappointed Lopez. “Our lives are not a parking ticket. We deserve better.”

California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control, DTSC, was not a party to the negotiations between Exide and federal authorities, but has been charged with making sure Exide’s complies with the terms of the deal.

The agency said the first phase of closure will take between 19 to 22 months and will include demolishing buildings “down to dirt.”

The second phase will involve cleaning beyond the facility and into the neighborhoods.

DTSC had earlier secured $14 million from Exide for the clean up of 216 potentially contaminated properties, although some of that amount still has to be approved by bankruptcy court later this month.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee claims the U.S. Attorney’s agreement will accelerate the payment schedule and ultimately “minimize the cost to the state.”

As a result, “[Exide] has a much greater incentive to work with us,” she said.

According to Lee, DTSC had already started the process to deny Exide’s application for a permanent permit — the company had been allowed to operate with a temporary one for more than three decades — when federal authorities struck their deal.

“[Exide] knew we were going to deny their permit and that they were going to be shut down irrespective of what the USAO was going to do,” Lee said.

Herrera says he was surprised that the U.S. Attorney’s office got involved.

“The [federal government] and local politicians really came through for our community,” he said. “The state never stuck up for us.”

Residents from Boyle Heights to Maywood celebrated the closure of the Exide plant in Vernon.    (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Residents from Boyle Heights to Maywood celebrated the closure of the Exide plant in Vernon. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Many like Herrera are angry DTSC did not act sooner. They are also angry Gov. Jerry Brown last year vetoed Sen. Kevin de Leon’s bill to create stricter oversight of state agencies like DTSC.

“Yes Exide is down, but DTSC is now responsible for the mess they allowed here in our communities,” said Lopez.

“The state of California needs reform and laws with teeth that will stick,” Marquez said.

Leading environmental groups are calling for an overhaul of the state’s regulatory agencies, with some going so far as to demand DTSC be shut down until it can be reorganized.

“I hope it’s legit,” said Rhianna Morales bluntly about the closure. “I hope [Exide] doesn’t come back with something.”

Lee, who has only been in her position for three months and inherited the mess from her predecessors, defends the agency against accusations it has repeatedly failed to take decisive action against Exide. She points out the agency has in recent years collected millions of dollars in fines from Exide, and that’s it’s effort to close the plant was thwarted by the courts.

“I have a lot of hope that Barbara [Lee] will turn the agency around,” says Herrera, but “to us, they are still the same agency.

Elsa Lopez thinks Exide “got off easy” and “should be charged with murder.”

Marquez told EGP, “Somebody has to get fired.”

Montes worries Exide will just move elsewhere and contaminate another community.

“[Exide’s] priority isn’t cleaning up, its making a profit,” he said.

The U.S. Attorney said its deal with Exide would allow the company to remain financially solvent so it can pay to clean up the damage it has caused. If they don’t, they will be criminally prosecuted.

For now, Boyle Heights resident Ethel Lopez, 60, is relieved that she will be able to breath fresh, clean air.

“We are getting rid of a polluter,” said Lopez. “As long as they are out, we should be fine.”

Many residents told EGP they feel they have helped secure a clean, safe environment for future generations.

“I’m very happy that this isn’t going to have to be my daughter’s fight,” Mark Lopez said.

“The next step is to make sure they clean up the site at Exide’s expense not at the cost of the community,” said Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias. “We need to hold these agencies accountable so this doesn’t happen again.”

“You can watch us going forward, we will clean this up,” promised Lee.

La Comunidad Celebra el Cierre de Exide Pero Continúan Las Dudas

March 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuando se supo la noticia el verano pasado de que un jurado estaba investigando a Exide Technologies, activistas de la comunidad celebraron con pastel y pizza en la Iglesia de la Resurrección en Boyle Heights, al ver la noticia como el comienzo del fin de la planta contaminadora desde hace mucho tiempo.

La semana pasada, tras el anuncio de que el Fiscal Federal había llegado a un acuerdo para cerrar la planta de Vernon permanentemente, ellos regresaron a la iglesia, esta vez celebrando con tequila y champán.

Read this article in English: Community Celebrates Exide Closure, but Doubts Remain

Más de 200 personas estuvieron presentes para exaltar el cierre de la planta de reciclaje de baterías de ácido-plomo que asediaba las cercanías de Vernon.

El acuerdo pide el cierre inmediato y permanente de la planta de Exide en Vernon y que la empresa gaste millones para limpiar las instalaciones y propiedades cercanas contaminadas por sus emisiones tóxicas. A cambio, la empresa y sus ejecutivos evitarán persecución penal por sus admitidas décadas ilegales de manejar residuos peligrosos.

El ambiente del sábado era agradable, había comida para todos, y desde oficiales electos a activistas de la comunidad y residentes locales, todos sonreían de oreja a oreja en la “noche histórica”.

“Vamos a continuar con la pelea, pero esta noche celebramos”, el Reverendo Monseñor John Moretta le dijo a la multitud, causando aplausos.

El jueves pasado—el día que se dio a conocer la noticia—la habitual reunión quincenal de partidarios de la justicia ambiental East Yard Communities y Comunidades por un Mejor Ambiente en lugar de discutir el problema constante con Exide, festejaron con música, hot dogs y baile.

 

Más de 200 personas llegarón a la Iglesia de la Resurrección para una cena especial en celebración del cierre de Exide. (EGP foto por Nancy Martinez)

Más de 200 personas llegarón a la Iglesia de la Resurrección para una cena especial en celebración del cierre de Exide. (EGP foto por Nancy Martinez)

Modesta Carranza organizó el evento en el Este de Los Ángeles y llamó la fiesta una “celebración entre vecinos”, con los vecinos de Huntington Park, Maywood, Boyle Heights y otros.

“En la larga lucha por los derechos civiles de la comunidad chicana/latina, es difícil obtener una victoria”, así que tenemos que celebrar cuando vengan, dijo durante el evento el presidente del Consejo Vecinal de Boyle Heights Carlos Montes.

El crédito para la victoria duramente trabajada pertenece a la comunidad, dijo la gente en ambos eventos.

“El dinero estaba en contra de nosotros, pero lo hicimos con el poder de la gente”, dijo Herrera. “Hemos estado luchando durante tanto tiempo”, y ahora sabemos “lo que significa la justicia para nosotros”.

Si usted vive en una comunidad de bajos ingresos, es más difícil que el gobierno escuche a la comunidad inmigrante, dijo la residente del Este de LA Victoria Zepeda.

“Se necesitan muchas manos para hacer una masa”, dijo Moretta antes de nombrar a todas las organizaciones que ayudaron a crear conciencia de la injusticia ambiental.

Mark López de East Yard Communities celebró con su madre y su hija en el Este de Los Ángeles y reflexionó sobre cómo muchas generaciones fueron obligadas a soportar las emisiones tóxicas de Exide antes de que finalmente se tomaran medidas.

“Nunca pensé que vería el día”, dijo su madre Elsa López, cuya lucha para cerrar la planta se remonta décadas con el grupo Madres del Este de Los Ángeles.

Detrás de todas las celebraciones y la sensación de victoria, sin embargo, persiste la duda de que los reguladores estatales puedan forzar a Exide a que cumpla su acuerdo con las autoridades federales.

También existe ira debido a que nadie será procesado penalmente por la liberación de plomo y arsénico en el aire y agua subterráneas, exponiendo a más de 100.000 personas durante décadas a niveles de toxinas que podrían causar cáncer.

Residentes y activistas celebran el cierre de la planta de reciclaje de baterías. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Residentes y activistas celebran el cierre de la planta de reciclaje de baterías. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Es difícil olvidar el tiempo que han tardado para actuar funcionarios y reguladores elegidos, dijeron muchas de las personas involucradas en el movimiento anti-Exide.

“Nadie creía en lo malo que era”, dijo la residente de Boyle Heights Teresa Márquez. Ella dijo que nunca creyó las afirmaciones de funcionarios de Exide y estatales de que la empresa no era un peligro para la comunidad.

“Sabíamos que Exide mentía, ¿Pero DTSC y AQMD? Queríamos que confiar en ellos”, recuerda con rabia.

Terry Cano no estaba segura de cómo se sintió cuando oyó que Exide estaba siendo obligado a cerrar porque ella nunca pensó que viviría para ver este día.

“Mi primera reacción fue de sorpresa, yo estaba feliz”, dijo Cano. Pero “Realmente me enojé y me decepcioné cuando me enteré de los términos del acuerdo, dijo la residente de Boyle Heights.

“Ellos literalmente se salieron con la suya”, dijo con disgusto.

Mark López comparte su sentimiento.

“Cuando se comete el crimen en nuestros vecindarios vamos a la cárcel, algunas veces incluso nos deportan, y para ellos sólo pagan una multa y se van ¡es ridículo!”, dijo el claramente decepcionado López. “Nuestras vidas no son una infracción de estacionamiento. Nos merecemos algo mejor”.

El Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas de California (DTSC), no tomó parte en las negociaciones entre Exide y autoridades federales, pero se ha encargado de asegurarse que Exide cumpla con los términos del acuerdo.

La agencia dijo que la primera fase del cierre tomará de 19 a 22 meses e incluirá demoler los edificios “a polvo”.

La segunda fase implicará la limpieza más allá de la planta y en los vecindarios.

Anteriormente DTSC había asegurado $14 millones de Exide para limpiar las 216 propiedades potencialmente contaminadas, aunque algo de esa cantidad todavía tiene que ser aprobado por la corte de bancarrota a finales de este mes.

La Directora de DTSC Bárbara Lee afirma que el acuerdo del Fiscal de EE.UU. acelerará el calendario de pagos y en última instancia “minimizará el costo para el Estado”.

Como resultado, “[Exide] tiene mucho mayor incentivo para trabajar con nosotros”, dijo Lee.

Según Lee, DTSC ya había comenzado el proceso de negar la solicitud a Exide para un permiso permanente—la compañía había sido autorizada a operar con uno temporal durante más de tres décadas—cuando las autoridades federales descubrieron su trato.

“[Exide] sabía que íbamos a negar su permiso y que les íbamos a cerrar, independientemente de lo que el USAO iba a hacer”, dijo Lee.

Herrera dice que se sorprendió de que la oficina del Fiscal de EE.UU. se involucrara.

“El [gobierno federal] y políticos locales realmente vinieron por nuestra comunidad”, dijo. “El Estado nunca nos apoyó”.

Muchos como Herrera están enojados de que DTSC no actuó antes. Ellos también están enojados con el Gobernador Jerry Brown después que el año pasado vetara la ley del Senador Kevin de León para crear una supervisión más estricta a las agencias estatales como DTSC.

“Sí, Exide esta cerrado, pero DTSC ahora es responsable por el lío que permitieron aquí en nuestras comunidades”, dijo Herrera.

“El estado de California necesita reformas y leyes con agallas que se acaten”, dijo Márquez.

Los principales grupos ecologistas están pidiendo una revisión de las agencias reguladoras del estado, con algunos hasta demandar a que DTSC cierre hasta que pueda reorganizarse.

Lee, quien ha estado en su posición solo por tres meses ha heredado el desorden de sus predecesores, pero defiende al organismo contra las acusaciones de que ha fracasado varias veces para tomar una acción decisiva contra Exide. Ella señala que la agencia en los últimos años ha colectado millones de dólares en multas de Exide, y ese esfuerzo para cerrar la planta fue frustrado por los tribunales.

“Tengo mucha esperanza de que Bárbara [Lee] podrá cambiar la agencia”, dice Herrera, pero “para nosotros siguen siendo la misma agencia”.

A Montes le preocupa que Exide solo se traslade a otro lugar y continúe contaminando a otra comunidad.

“La prioridad [de Exide] no es la limpieza, es ganancias”, dijo.

El fiscal federal dijo que su trato con Exide permitiría que la empresa siga siendo financieramente solvente para que pueda pagar para limpiar el daño que ha causado. Si no lo hacen, serán procesados de forma penal.

Muchos residentes le dijeron a EGP que sienten que han ayudado a asegurar un ambiente limpio y seguro para las generaciones futuras.

“Estoy muy feliz de que esto no va a tener que ser la lucha de mi hija”, dijo Mark López.

“El siguiente paso es asegurarse de que limpien el sitio a costos de Exide y no de la comunidad”, dijo Karina Macias, alcaldesa de Huntington Park. “Tenemos que mantener estas agencias responsables para que esto no vuelva a suceder”.

“Usted puede vernos avanzar, vamos a limpiar esto”, prometió Lee.

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Exide to Close, Now What?

March 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The U.S. Attorney’s announcement March 12 that it has reached an agreement with Exide Technologies to close its Vernon plant is certainly good news given the facility’s troubling history of toxic chemical emission and hazardous waste violations.

The acid-lead battery recycler has been operating for nearly three decades under a temporary permit, which gives new meaning to “temporary” here in Los Angeles County.

More than any other factor, we believe it was the unrelenting demonstrations and pressure from the community that is ultimately responsible for the U.S. Attorney’s decision to investigate and pursue charges against the company.

We salute the residents in Boyle Heights, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, and other neighborhoods for bringing this polluter its day of reckoning.

Exide demonstrated little to no respect for the residents who live near its plant or care about the trail of contamination it has left in our air, water and land.

Nor did the company care that it exposed thousands of residents to unsafe levels of cancer causing chemicals.

But state regulators are also deserving of blame in this environmental debacle.

They allowed Exide to stay in operation even after the California Department of Toxic Substance Control cited the company repeatedly for its unsafe emission levels of lead and other contaminants, and its unsafe handling of hazardous waste.

Exide entered into an agreement in the fall of 2014 with state regulators to set aside $38.6 million for the environmental clean up of the recycling facility should it close down due to its inability to operate the facility in a safe manner.

But it wasn’t until a criminal investigation was launched by federal authorities — which included the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation — that Exide is finally being held responsible for what the company admits is its years of illegal handling of hazardous waste.

Unfortunately, the agreement does not send anyone to jail and gross polluters, like criminal bankers and stock manipulators, will escape incarceration.

And while local residents and environmental activists are cheering news that the Vernon battery recycling plant will not only be permanently closed but demolished, they lack faith in state regulators to ensure Exide lives up to the terms of its agreement with federal authorities,

Their doubts are not unreasonable, given the decades of inaction by state agencies.

Even Gov. Brown, California’s sometimes-environmental hero, vetoed a law that would have required stricter oversight of regulatory agencies.

It’s long past time for State Legislators to pass legislation –and the governor to sign – that will bring greater oversight of DTSC, AQMD, and to set tighter standards for closing down toxic polluters.

Community Celebrates Closure of Exide Plant

March 13, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

Dozens of residents from Boyle Heights to Maywood celebrated the news that the controversial Exide battery recycling plant will finally be shutting its doors for good.

Residents and environmental activists danced, ate and cheered at a nighttime gathering held at an East Los Angeles home Thursday.

Some of the celebrants were meeting for the first time, united by the struggle and now victory to permanently shutter the toxic polluter in their backyard.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Exide Technologies reached an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office late Wednesday, under which the company admitted that its Vernon plant had been illegally storing, spewing and transporting lead and arsenic – chemicals  known to cause birth defects, cancer and learning disabilities – into the air, soil and streets for decades, but will avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for shutting down, demolishing and cleaning the smelting plant.

Payments used to clean up the site and surrounding communities – agreed upon in Exide’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings – will be expedited under the USAO’s agreement.

As many as 110,000 people in Vernon, Boyle Heights, Maywood and other nearby communities were exposed to cancer causing levels of lead and arsenic, according to state air quality regulators.

The closure was great news, worthy of celebration, but the issue is far from over, said several people.

Pressure has to be kept on state regulators, the Department of Toxic Substance Control, to ensure they enforce the agreement, they said.

 

 

Feds Strike Deal to Close Exide Permanently

March 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Embattled Exide Technologies will permanently shut down its battery recycling plant in Vernon in a deal reached with federal authorities to avoid prosecution on criminal charges, announced the U.S. attorney’s office Wednesday.

“We have reached a deal with Exide that will result in the immediate and permanent closure of the battery recycling plant,” said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It’s a complicated deal, but we think it will ensure that money is available to pay for tens of millions of dollars in cleanup efforts.”

The closure comes following years of public outrage over the company’s numerous violations for toxic chemical emissions and handling of hazardous waste. As many as 110,000 people in Vernon, Boyle Heights, Maywood and other nearby communities were exposed to cancer causing levels of lead and arsenic, state air quality regulators found.

Residents in nearby communities and local elected officials have repeatedly demanded the company be permanently closed.

“Exide was poisoning our community, it had to be closed,” said Rev. Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights, ground zero in the fight to close the Vernon plant.

The agreement calls for Exide to permanently close the plant which, the company admits, produces a host of hazardous wastes, including lead, cadmium, arsenic and volatile organic compounds.

According to the negotiated agreement, Exide will acknowledge the illegal storage and transportation of hazardous waste but avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for shutting down, demolishing and cleaning its 15-acre battery recycling plant.

Smelting operations have been shut down at the Vernon facility since March 2014 as the company worked to install equipment upgrades to comply with state air quality standards. During the closure, however, the company continued to violate air pollution regulations and hazardous waste storage and transportation laws.

Exide is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and according to federal authorities the agreement will allow the company to remain financially solvent so it can make good on an agreement reached last year with state regulators for the company to set aside $38.6 million for closure and cleanup of the facility and to place $9 million in a trust fund to clean lead-tainted soil from surrounding homes in Boyle Heights and Maywood.

At the time, Exide called the “agreement” a “crucial step forward” in its pursuit to re-open its plant, closed since March 2014 as the company worked to upgrade pollution controls and meet other Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) requirements.

Those payments will be expedited under the agreement with federal officials.

“Permanently shutting down Exide’s Vernon facility is the best and long-overdue outcome for communities harmed by its dangerous pollution for decades,” said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

“For too long, kids and the elderly were left vulnerable to hazardous waste leaking from the plant while the state agency responsible for protecting them failed to do its job,” he said, referring to state regulators allowing the company to operate on a temporary permit for decades.

DTSC, the state agency in charge of the permitting process, has repeatedly come under fire for its failure to complete the permitting process or to shut down the plant in the wake of its continuous violations that endangered public health.

A bill signed by the governor last year required the company to get a permanent permit by the end of this year or be shut down.

DTSC has been reviewing Exide’s permit application, and said today they “initiated the process of denying the company’s permit application” last month.

Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens said news of Exide’s permanent closure would “bring great relief to his constituents, who for decades have been exposed to toxic levels of lead and arsenic emissions from their Vernon facility.”

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard called the permanent closure a “landmark public health victory for the 40th District.”

Exide issued a statement today saying the company would “immediately move to permanently close its lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon,” under the terms of the “non-prosecution” agreement reached with the U.S. attorney that “resolves the USAO’s criminal investigation into Exide.”

The company will request that the Bankruptcy Court approve the agreements as part of its reorganization plan at a hearing scheduled for March 27.

Approval should allow the company to meet its financial commitment, said Robert M. Caruso, President and Chief Executive Officer of Exide Technologies. Caruso said the company recognizes the impact the closure will have on the facility’s 130 employees, and thanked the United Steel Workers Union for their “commitment and dedication,” without detailing what if anything will be done to assist the displaced workers.

Lawsuits have been filed against several company executives and the manager of the Exide recycling plant by area residents who allege they and their children were exposed to lead, arsenic and other contaminants.

One complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in January also alleged wrongful death. It was brought by family members of residents who died between June 1998 and May 2013. Plaintiffs attributed the deaths to toxins from the plant that affected the water, soil and air.

When operational, the plant recycled about 25,000 batteries daily. It was one of only two lead-acid battery recycling plants west of the Rockies.

Exide Cierra Permanentemente en Vernon

March 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Exide Technologies cerrará permanentemente su planta de reciclaje de baterías en Vernon en un acuerdo alcanzado con autoridades federales para evitar ser procesado por cargos criminales, según anunció la oficina del fiscal de EE.UU. el miércoles.

“Hemos llegado a un acuerdo con Exide que resultará en el cierre inmediato y permanente de la planta de reciclaje de baterías”, dijo Thom Mrozek, portavoz de la oficina del fiscal federal.

Read this article in English: Feds Strike Deal to Close Exide Permanently 

“Es un acuerdo complicado, pero creemos que esto asegurará que el dinero esté disponible para pagar decenas de millones de dólares en los esfuerzos de limpieza”.

El cierre se produce después de años de la indignación pública sobre numerosas violaciónes de la compañía para las emisiones de sustancias químicas tóxicas y el manejo de residuos peligrosos. Alrededor de 110.000 personas en Vernon, Boyle Heights, Maywood y otras comunidades cercanas estuvieron expuestos a niveles de plomo y arsénico que podrían causar cáncer, según encontraron los reguladores estatales de calidad del aire.

Los residentes de las comunidades cercanas y los funcionarios electos locales solicitaron en repetidas ocasiones que la planta cerrará permanentemente.

Exide localizada en la ciudad de Vernon acordó cerrar permanentemente. (EGP archivo)

Exide localizada en la ciudad de Vernon acordó cerrar permanentemente. (EGP archivo)

“Exide estaba envenenando a nuestra comunidad, tenía que ser cerrada”, dijo el Rev. Monseñor John Moretta de la Iglesia de la Resurrección en Boyle Heights, la zona cero en la lucha para cerrar la planta en Vernon.

El acuerdo contempla que Exide cierre definitivamente la planta, que la empresa admite que produce una gran cantidad de desechos peligrosos, incluyendo plomo, cadmio, arsénico y compuestos orgánicos volátiles.

Según el acuerdo negociado, Exide reconocerá el almacenamiento ilegal y transporte de residuos peligrosos, evitando así la persecución penal a cambio del cierre, la demolición y limpieza de la planta de reciclaje de baterías de 15 acres.

Las operaciones de fundición han sido cerradas en las instalaciones de Vernon desde marzo de 2014, como la compañía trabajó para instalar actualizaciones de equipos para cumplir con las normas de calidad del aire del estado. Durante el cierre, sin embargo, la empresa continúa violando las regulaciones de contaminación del aire y las leyes de almacenamiento de residuos peligrosos y de transporte.

Exide está en el Capítulo 11 de bancarrota y de acuerdo con las autoridades federales el acuerdo permitirá a la compañía permanecer financieramente solvente para que pueda cumplir con un acuerdo alcanzado el año pasado con los reguladores estatales de que la empresa pondría a un lado $38.6 millones para el cierre y la limpieza de la instalación y colocaría $9 millones en un fondo fiduciario para limpiar suelos contaminados con plomo de las viviendas vecinas en Boyle Heights y Maywood.

En ese momento, Exide llamó al “acuerdo” un “paso crucial hacia delante” en su búsqueda para volver a abrir su planta, cerrada desde marzo de 2014, mientras la compañía trabajaba para mejorar los controles de contaminación y cumplir con otros requisitos del Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC).

Esos pagos se expedirán bajo el acuerdo con funcionarios federales.

“Al cerrar permanentemente las instalaciones de Exide en Vernon es lo mejor, y una espera de largo tiempo para las comunidades perjudicadas por su contaminación peligrosa por décadas”, dijo el Presidente Pro Tempore del Senado Kevin de León (D-Los Ángeles).

“Por mucho tiempo, los niños y ancianos quedaron vulnerables a la fuga de residuos peligrosos de la planta, mientras que la agencia estatal responsable de su protección falló en hacer su trabajo”, dijo, refiriéndose a los reguladores estatales que permiten a la compañía operar con un permiso temporal durante décadas.

DTSC, la agencia estatal encargada del proceso de permisos, ha sido criticada repetidamente por su fracaso para completar el proceso de permisos o de cerrar la planta a raíz de sus continuas violaciónes que ponían en peligro la salud pública.

Un proyecto de ley firmado por el gobernador el año pasado requería que la empresa obtuviera un permiso permanente a finales de este año o sería cerrada.

DTSC ha estado revisando la solicitud de permiso de Exide, y dijo hoy jueves que “iniciaron el proceso para negar la solicitud de permiso de la compañía” el mes pasado.

El Senador Ricardo Lara de Bell Gardens dijo que las noticias del cierre definitivo de Exide “traerían gran alivio a sus constituyentes, quienes durante décadas han estado expuestos a niveles tóxicos de plomo y emisiones de arsénico por parte de sus instalaciones en Vernon”.

La Congresista Lucille Roybal-Allard llama el cierre permanente una “iconica victoria de salud pública para el Distrito 40”.

Exide emitió un comunicado diciendo que la compañía “inmediatamente cerraría permanentemente su planta de reciclaje de baterías de plomo-ácido en Vernon”, en virtud de los términos del acuerdo de “no persecución” alcanzados con el abogado del fiscal federal que “resuelve investigación criminal de la oficina del fiscal de EE.UU. en Exide”.

La empresa solicitará que la corte de Bancarrota apruebe los acuerdos en el marco de su plan de reorganización en una audiencia programada para el 27 de marzo.

La aprobación debe permitir a la empresa cumplir con sus compromisos financieros, dijo Robert M. Caruso, Presidente y Consejero Delegado de Exide Technologies. Caruso dijo que la empresa reconoce el impacto que el cierre tendrá en los 130 empleados de la planta, y agradeció a la Unión de Trabajadores Unidos del Acero por su “compromiso y dedicación”, sin detallar si hay algo que se puede hacer para ayudar a los trabajadores desplazados.

Se han presentado demandas contra varios ejecutivos de la compañía y el gerente de la planta de reciclaje de Exide por residentes en la zona que alegan que ellos y sus hijos fueron expuestos al plomo, arsénico y otros contaminantes.

Una demanda presentada en la Corte Superior de Los Ángeles en enero también alegó homicidio culposo. Fue presentado por los familiares de residentes que murieron entre junio de 1998 y mayo de 2013. Los demandantes atribuyeron las muertes a las toxinas de la planta que afectó al agua, suelo y aire.

Cuando estaba operando, la planta reciclaba cerca de 25.000 baterías diarias. Era una de las únicas dos plantas de reciclaje de baterías de plomo-ácido al oeste de las Montañas Rocosas.

 

DTSC Accused of ‘Environmental Racism’

February 19, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Vernon last week to call for the closure of Exide Techonologoes, an embattled lead-acid battery recycler in the city.

“Stand by our side, shut down Exide,” chanted residents and environmental activists from Boyle Heights, Maywood and Huntington Park.

The protest was in response to recent hazardous waste violations issued against Exide by the Department of Toxic Substance Control. The citations included unauthorized tanks filled with contaminated sludge and failure to “sufficiently protect against spills.”

Residents from Boyle Heights, Maywood and Huntington marched down Vernon streets protesting Exide.   (East Yard Communities )

Residents from Boyle Heights, Maywood and Huntington marched down Vernon streets protesting Exide. (East Yard Communities )

For the protesters, the problems go beyond Exide. They accused DTSC of engaging in flagrant environmental racism, saying the regulatory agency has not shut down Exide, despite its long history of air quality violations and arsenic emissions, because the affected communities are home to working-class Latinos.

“DTSC’s actions show that it has placed Exide’s and the State’s financial interests above the Latino community’s human right to breath clean air and live in safe communities,” said Milton Hernandez-Nimatuj, a youth organizer with CBE, Communities for a Better Environment.

The participants pointed to the nearly identical Exide facility that was shut down in the white-affluent city of Frisco, Texas as proof of their claim.

The group accused DTSC of imposing lighter fines and entering into settlement agreements instead of shutting down the plant that up until recently had been operating on a temporary permit.

But DTSC continues to say the agency is fully aware of the community’s concerns and they are holding Exide accountable.

“We are carefully and thoroughly evaluating Exide’s compliance record, including these most recent violations, as part of our decision on their permit application. We will make a decision before the end of the year, and in the meantime, wherever we see non-compliance, we will issue violations,” DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax said in a statement to EGP.

The Vernon plant has been closed since March 2014 to make equipment improvements to meet South Coast Air Quality Management District air quality standards. DTSC must decide whether to issue a permit by the end of the year or Exide would face closure.

Gladys Limon, staff attorney at CBE, said Exide does not deserve that permit.

“DTSC has a duty to initiate a permit denial process based on Exide’s historical and ongoing violations,” she said at Monday’s rally. “It is reckless and creates dangerous precedent to allow such a facility…to continue to operate.”

DTSC countered that the permit process has been transparent and open to the public and a public comment portion will be considered before the agency’s final decision.

Representatives of L.A. County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis and the County’s Department of Community and Senior Services also took part in the rally and the supervisor pledged the County’s support to “protect the health and safety of communities threatened by pollution from the Vernon plant.” She pledged assistance to workers who could be displaced if Exide is closed permanently.

According to Solis, the county will be leading three special orientations for Exide dislocated workers in Huntington Park, Santa Fe Springs and East Los Angeles.

Students from Boyle Heights, Maywood and Huntington Park protested against Exide on the streets of Vernon. (East Yard Communities )

Students from Boyle Heights, Maywood and Huntington Park protested against Exide on the streets of Vernon. (East Yard Communities )

On Feb. 10, she told her fellow supervisors that county health officials should make department staff available to follow up on the lead blood testing program, both to discuss the results of tests already taken and to encourage more people to get tested by the end-of-the –month deadline.

“No community should receive less of what they are entitled to. Let’s level the playing field,” Solis said during the board meeting.

Exide, however, continues to say the company is committed to working with regulators to meet permit requirements and health and safety standards, and to get their approximately 135 employees back to work.

“We recognize the community’s concerns and are committed to engaging openly and transparent with local residents,” said Tom Strang, vice president for Exide’s Evironment and Safety, in a statement.

Exide officials say the company has invested $35 million in environmental, health and safety measures since 2010.

Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights said re-training Exide employees is key.

“Surely our political leadership agrees that the safety and health of 100,000 people is more important than 100 jobs which pose grave danger to workers,” he said at the Vernon rally.

AQMD previously found that 110,000 people in the area were exposed to cancer-causing chemical emissions from Exide.

Vernon Councilmember-elect Melissa Ybarra told EGP that she drives by Exide everyday on her way to work but she has yet to take a stance on the controversial topic.

However, like her father before her, she too is concerned about the plant.

“My concern is making sure the employees are healthy,” said Ybarra, who was elected Tuesday to fill out her late father’s term.

Mark Lopez, director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, is not satisfied by the company’s efforts to remediate the health concerns. He said his mother and grandmother fought against environmentl justice in the 1990s, and things haven’t change.

“I’m standing here, fighting to shut down Exide permanently, so my toddler daughters won’t have to fight Exide to protect their children’s health in the future.”

Se Extiende el Examen de Sangre para Residentes Alrededor de la Planta Exide

February 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Desde que Reina Rodríguez escuchó que en el Parque Salazar del Este de Los Ángeles se encontraron niveles elevados de plomo en el suelo, dice que en raras ocasiones lleva a su hijo de 4 años a jugar ahí. Pese a vivir a pocas cuadras de distancia, la joven madre dice que nunca supo que ella y su familia eran elegibles para los análisis de sangre gratuitos del plomo, pagadas por Exide Technologies en Vernon y administrados por los funcionarios de salud del condado de Los Ángeles.

El programa de prueba de sangre, que se ofreció a los residentes del este y sureste del área de Los Ángeles que viven cerca de la planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide en Vernon, llegará a finales de febrero, 11 meses después que inició en abril de 2014.

Read this article in English: Lead Blood Testing Extended for Residents Near Exide

Reguladores de la contaminación del aire y químicos tóxicos encontraron que Exide expuso hasta 110.000 personas en la región a niveles insalubres, potencialmente cancerosos y necrológicamente dañinos de plomo y arsénico.

De acuerdo a funcionarios de la salud, solamente 500 de las aproximadamente 30.000 personas elegibles se han hecho el examen, aunque hubo 2.000 peticiones en papel.

Hasta el momento ninguno de los resultados ha necesitado intervención médica, de acuerdo a funcionarios de la salud pública, quienes todavía continúan analizando los últimos examenes administrados. Los resultados serán enviados directamente a los residentes.

La administración y el valor del examen han sido cuestionados por un número de personas preocupadas por la exposición de la comunidad a las emisiones de sustancias químicas tóxicas de la planta Exide.

Algunas personas acusaron al condado de no proveer la difusión necesaria al público y de no hacer las pruebas más accesibles.

Un niño corre por el parque Salazar, uno de los sitios cercanas a Exide examinadas para el plomo y arsénico. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Un niño corre por el parque Salazar, uno de los sitios cercanas a Exide examinadas para el plomo y arsénico. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

La residente de Boyle Heights Doelorez Mejía quien sigue el tema Exide de cerca le dijo a EGP que ella no confía en el programa de revisión. “Todos sabemos que el plomo está en nuestras comunidades, está en nuestro suelo” y añadió que los resultados de la prueba de sangre sólo distraerían los esfuerzos de la comunidad para demostrar los problemas de salud que Exide ha causado en los residentes.

Exide acordó pagar por los exámenes confidenciales administrados por el condado como parte de su esfuerzo para remediar las consecuencias de los resultados de los reguladores estatales y reacción de activistas de la comunidad y funcionarios electos, muchos de los que quieren que la planta cierre de forma permanente.

Nestor Valencia, alcalde de la ciudad vecina Bell, dice que los exámenes de sangre son una “maniobra política” y una “farsa” que “sólo beneficiaría a ellos [Exide] para decir, “ven nadie tiene plomo en su cuerpo’”.

EGP habló con varios residentes quienes dijeron que no creen que la prueba de sangre es la forma adecuada para determinar la exposición crónica a sustancias químicas tóxicas como el plomo.

Según Joseph R. Landolfo Jr., Profesor Asociado de Microbiología Molecular, Inmunología y Patología en la Escuela de Medicina Keck en  USC,  el plomo sólo permanece en la sangre durante 30 días antes de que desaparezca.

Aunque en realidad, la prueba de sangre es la forma estándar para determinar la exposición al plomo que se queda en los huesos de una persona por hasta 20 años, dijo Landolfo. En los adultos, el 90 por ciento de plomo se encuentra en los huesos, le dijo a EGP. Debido a esto, las mujeres embarazadas y las que atraviesan por la menopausia son propensas a reabsorber el plomo, explicó.

“Todas [las pruebas] dirían es que el plomo está en su sangre”, dijo Landolfo.

Una vez que se haya encontrado el plomo, el condado tendría que determinar la exposición al ver los alrededores de los individuos y “asumir que todo es una contribución en proporción a cuanto sacan”, añadió.

Por eso Teresa Márquez de Boyle Heights no se hizo la prueba y le dijo a EGP que “no vale la pena”, sobre todo porque cualquier supuesta exposición de Exide puede haber desaparecido desde que la planta cerró en marzo de 2014.

“Es un poco demasiado tarde”, dijo. “¿Por qué no les hacen pruebas en las uñas que demuestren la contaminación del arsénico por un periodo de años?”

Márquez cree que el condado y Exide no quieren pagar por un mayor costo de las pruebas de arsénico, lo que en última instancia, haría un mejor trabajo de mostrar qué daño se ha hecho.

Sin embargo, Landolfo, que es miembro del Centro Comprensivo de Cáncer Norris en USC y experto en arsénico, le dijo a EGP que arsénico sólo vive en la sangre durante 10 horas.

Agregó, sin embargo, que las concentraciones de exposición crónica se podían encontrar en las uñas y el cabello. Un indicio, dijo, podría ser las bandas blancas en las uñas.

Exide no respondió a la petición de EGP para hacer comentarios sobre el tema antes del cierre de esta edición.

Los funcionarios del condado dijeron a EGP que no hay planes para llevar a cabo las pruebas de arsénico. Añaden que esa prueba sólo sería apropiada para la intoxicación aguda por arsénico –la exposición no crónica a largo plazo.

Se centraron en el plomo porque fueron esos los niveles elevados que se encontraron en la zona, no arsénico.

Para la mayoría de los residentes, el valor de las pruebas no es lo que les impidió hacerse la revisión. Simplemente no sabían sobre el programa gratuito de pruebas de sangre.

La residente de toda la vida del Este de Los Ángeles, Alice Gallardo, 80, dijo que la información sobre la prueba no estuvo lo suficientemente disponible para la comunidad.

“Nadie vino con nosotros”, dijo.

Agregó que el proceso hubiera sido mas fácil si el condado hubiera ido a los centros locales de personas mayores y parques para informar al público.

“Si aun no sabías sobre Exide, no ibas a saber sobre las pruebas”, agregó Mejia.

“¿Cómo se supone que las personas deberían saber?”

Funcionarios de salud pública defendieron su alcance.

En un correo electrónico, un portavoz del departamento de la división de salud ambiental de la salud pública le dijo a EGP que el condado envió por correo folletos con instrucciones a los 30.000 residentes de la zona impactada sobre cómo hacerse la prueba en abril de 2014 y de nuevo hace un par de meses.

También tuvieron reuniones en Commerce y Maywood en abril de 2014, y dieron actualizaciones de progreso en un par de reuniones comunitarias en la Iglesia de la Resurrección.

Los funcionarios del condado le dijeron a EGP que enfermeras de salud pública llevaron a cabo campañas de puerta en puerta en los barrios de los alrededores de Exide y fueron a las escuelas del área.

Marena Vallejo de Boyle Heights dijo que encontró la información “confusa” acerca de las pruebas y donde tomarlas.

Lucía Sandoval estaba en el Parque Salazar a principios de esta semana con su nieto. El parque está situado a una milla de la planta Exide en Vernon.

Le dijo a EGP, “Si yo no sabía nada de esto y no me hice la prueba”, ¿cómo iba a saber él?

Los reguladores estatales ordenaron a Exide que pagara por la remoción de suelo contaminado en el Parque Salazar y estableciera un fondo de $9 millones para la limpieza de otros sitios contaminados.

Márquez insiste en que el programa de pruebas se podría haber manejado mejor. Si el condado realmente quería informar al público, hubieran llevado a cabo una feria de salud y ofrecer pruebas en un fin de semana para que fuera más fácil para la comunidad de clase trabajadora, dijo.

“Ellos [el condado] no hicieron lo suficiente porque no quieren hacer más por nuestra comunidad”, dijo el alcalde Valencia. “Creo que es porque sabían que era una pérdida de tiempo”.

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Lead Blood Testing Extended for Residents Near Exide

February 5, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

Since hearing that elevated levels of lead were found in soil at Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles, Reina Rodriguez says she rarely takes her 4-year old son there to play. And while she only lives a few blocks away, the young mother says she never knew that she and her family were eligible for free blood tests for lead, paid for by Exide Technologies in Vernon and administered by Los Angeles County health officials.

The blood-screening program, offered to east and southeast Los Angeles area residents who live near Exide’s battery recycling plant in Vernon, was to end Jan. 31, but County officials said Wednesday they will extend the program until the end of February.

Exide was found by state air pollution and toxic chemical regulators to have exposed as many as 110,000 people in the region to unhealthful, potentially cancerous and neurologically damaging levels of lead and arsenic.

According to county health officials, since testing started in April 2014, only 500 of the estimated 30,000 people eligible have had their blood tested, despite 2,000 requests for the testing form.

A young child runs around at Salazar Park, one of the locations near Exide tested for lead and arsenic. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A young child runs around at Salazar Park, one of the locations near Exide tested for lead and arsenic. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

To date, none of the results have required medical intervention, according to public health officials, who are still analyzing the last tests administered. Those results will be mailed directly to residents.

The administration and value of the testing has been questioned by a number of people concerned about the community’s exposure to toxic chemical emissions from the Exide plant.

Some people have accused the County of not doing enough outreach to the public and of not making the testing more accessible.

Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia is one of those following the Exide issue closely, and she told EGP she does not trust the screening program. “We all know lead is in our communities, it’s in our soil,” adding that results from the blood test would only distract from the community’s efforts to prove Exide has caused health problems in residents.

Exide agreed to pay for the confidential screenings administered by the County as part of their effort to remediate the fallout from the state regulators’ findings and backlash from community activists and elected officials, many who want the plant shut down permanently.

Nestor Valencia, mayor of nearby Bell, calls the blood screenings a “political stunt” and a “sham” that “would only benefit them [Exide] to say, ‘see nobody has lead in their bodies.’”

Many residents EGP spoke with said they do not believe blood testing is the appropriate way to determine chronic exposure to toxic chemicals such as lead.

According to Joseph R. Landolph Jr., Associate Professor of Molecular Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, lead only stays in the blood for 30 days before it breaks down.

Although blood testing is the standard form of determining exposure the lead, it actually stays in a person’s bones for up to 20 years, Landolph said. In adults, 90 percent of lead is found in bones, he told EGP.  Because it stays in the bones, pregnant women and those undergoing menopause are prone to reabsorbing the lead, he explained.

“All the [test] would say is that lead is in your blood,” Landolph said.

Once lead is found, the county would have to determine exposure by looking at the individuals surrounding and “assume everything is a contribution in proportion to how much they put out,” he added.

That is why Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights did not get tested. She told EGP the test was “not worth the trouble,” especially since any alleged exposure from Exide may be gone since the plant was closed in March 2014 to make facility improvements.

“It’s too little too late,” she said. “Why don’t they test finger nails that show contamination of arsenic for a period of years?”

Marquez believes the County and Exide do not want to spend the higher cost of arsenic testing, which would ultimately do a better job of show what damage has been done.

However, Landolph, who is a member of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and an expert in arsenic, told EGP arsenic only lives in the blood for 10 hours.

He did say, however, that concentrations from chronic exposure could be found in fingernails and hair. One indication, he said, could be white bands on fingernails.

Exide had not responded to EGP’s request for comment as of press time.

County officials told EGP there are no plans to conduct arsenic testing. They add that such testing would only be appropriate for acute arsenic poisoning not chronic, long-term exposure.

They focused on lead because only elevated levels of lead, not arsenic, were found in the area.

For most residents, the value of the tests is not what kept them from seeking the screenings. Instead, they simply did not know about the free blood testing program.

Lifelong East Los Angeles resident Alice Gallardo, 80, said the testing information was not readily available to the community.

“Nobody came to us,” she said.

She added that the process would have been easier if the county went to local senior centers and parks to inform the public.

“If you didn’t already know about Exide you wouldn’t know about the testing,” agreed Mejia. “How is the average person supposed to know?”

Public health officials are defending their outreach.

In an email, a spokesman for the department of public health’s environmental health division told EGP the County mailed out flyers with instructions on how to get tested to the 30,000 area residents in the impacted area in April 2014 and again a couple months ago.

They also held town halls in Commerce and Maywood in April 2014, and gave progress updates at a couple community meetings held at Resurrection Church.

County officials told EGP public health nurses conducted door-to-door campaigns in the neighborhoods surrounding Exide and conducted outreach with area schools.

Marena Vallejo of Boyle Heights said she found the information about the tests and where to take it “confusing.”

Lucia Sandoval was at Salazar Park earlier this week with her grandson. The park is located a mile from the Exide plant in Vernon.

Speaking in Spanish, she told EGP, “If I didn’t know about it and didn’t get tested” how would he get tested, she said referring to her grandson.

State regulators ordered Exide to pay for the removal of contaminated soil at Salazar Park and to establish a $ 9 million fund for the clean up of other contaminated sites.

Marquez insists the testing program could have been better handled. If the county really wanted to inform the public, they would have held a health fair and offered testing on a weekend to make it easier for the blue-collar community, she said.

In the absence of any significant outreach, extending the testing deadline may not do much to raise the number of people tested, however.

“They [county] didn’t do enough because they didn’t want to do enough for our community,” said Mayor Valencia. “I think because they knew it was a waste of time.”

Exide Violates Hazardous Waste Laws

January 29, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent inspection led the Department of Toxic Substance Control Wednesday to issue eight new violations to embattled Exide Technologies related to their handling of hazardous waste.

The most serious violation observed at the Vernon facility by DTSC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspectors was unauthorized tanks filled with contaminated sludge. The inspectors also found that the plant failed to “sufficiently protect against spills” in an area where battery acid is stored.

Other alleged violations include: improperly labeling and not closing containers with hazardous waste, a lack of adequate secondary containment and placing hazardous waste with liquids in a building without a functioning leak detention.

The two-day inspections took place Jan. 20 and Jan 21 as part of the company’s application for a permanent hazardous waste permit.

Newly appointed DTSC Director Barbara A. Lee told EGP the results from the recent inspections will be taken into consideration when she makes a decision on Exide’s permit. Exide must receive a permanent permit by Dec. 31, as required by Senate Bill 712, or face closure.

“I felt it was important we confirm [Exide’s] applications accurately reflects the present conditions of the site,” she said of the inspection.

This is the first set of violations issued since Lee was appointed to her position in December.

Exide must address all violations within 10 days or face penalties and additional enforcement actions.

“These violations represent our commitment to the community that we will keep a close watch on Exide and ensure that the facility is in compliance with all pertinent laws,” said DTSC Deputy Director Elise Rothschild.

Exide officials said the company will continue to work with state regulators.

“The company is already taking action pursuant to the notice and will continue to work with the DTSC so that all applicable standards and protocols are met. We intend to operate a premier recycling facility,” said Tom Strang, Exide’s Vice-President of Environment Health and Safety.

Smelting operations have been shut down at the Vernon facility since March 2014 as the company works to install equipment upgrades to comply with state air quality standards.

The plant located at 2700 S. Indiana St. is one of the only two lead-acid battery-recycling plants west of the Rockies. The facility has been a target by state regulators after years of arsenic emissions and numerous air quality violations.

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