Over 8,600 soil samples taken from properties north and south of the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon provided no indication that there is a defined pattern of lead distribution in the area, according to officials from the Department of Toxic Substances Control.
Both low and high concentrations of lead – a chemical known to cause neurological damage – were found throughout the 146 residential properties tested in the expanded assessment area, according to the data used to see how far lead concentrations extend from the plant site.
“We need to continue to do our homework,” said Rizgar Ghazi, division chief of permitting at DTSC. But “we still hold Exide responsible,” he assured EGP. “We are just trying to see what Exide is responsible for and make them clean it up.”
The testing was conducted as part of DTSC’s 2013 stipulation order with Exide, which requires the company to test and cleanup any contamination caused by their emissions.
In March, the U.S. Attorney’s Office struck a deal with Exide to close the Vernon plant in lieu of facing criminal charges related to decades of hazardous waste violations and exposing over 110,000 eastside residents to cancer-causing emissions.
On Wednesday night, DTSC officials met one-on-one with residents whose homes have already been tested for lead to explain the results of those tests.
Saturday meetings have been planned for later in the month and in early June to accommodate residents who could not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“We are working in a very complex environment,” said Ghazi. “This is the first of a series of meetings,” he told EGP.
The additional data was collected late last year when the state agency began cleaning up some of the properties in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Maywood that had previously been tested for contaminated soil. According to DTSC, 60 to 80 samples, taken at different depths and increments, were obtained from each property.
Ghazi said the agency did not find any concentrations of lead “that would constitute a danger.”
He told EGP that the industrial landscape in eastside communities, which includes a high number of freeways, rail yards and other similar industries, has contributed to the concentrations of metals and chemicals in the area.
In late 2013, testing began in the original assessment area that included 217 residential properties. As of last week, the cleanup at 76 homes has been completed and over 3,900 tons of soil removed from the properties.
DTSC officials expanded the original assessment area an additional mile from both the northern and southern borders based on modules prepared by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to determined which areas would most likely be impacted by Exide emissions.
Last month, eastside residents complained to DTSC Director Barbara Lee that the assessment area should be enlarged to include more communities near the Vernon plant.
Responding to complaints from residents that their concerns have fallen on deaf ears over the years, DTSC has announced the formation of an advisory committee to oversee the agency’s closure of the Exide plant and cleanup of surrounding residential properties.
DTSC is currently accepting applications from people interested in serving on the committee, however the size of the committee has not yet been decided.
Ghazi told EGP the committee will be all-inclusive and there are no requirements for members. However, he stressed the agency would prefer residents who live in the assessment area.
“This partnership will provide an open dialogue for the community to be apart of the process,” he said.
By May 15, Exide must submit to DTSC its plan for safely removing buildings on the site and for the clean up of hazardous waste, including soil and groundwater contamination.
DTSC will review the plan to determine if there are any deficiencies that need to be addressed. Once approved, the agency will prepare a CEQA document and present the draft plan to the public.
DTSC expects to hold public hearings on the closure plan and CEQA document by Fall 2015.
The demolition of the buildings and structures at the Exide plant is expected to begin Spring 2016 and continue for 19 to 24 months.
[Updated: April 16, 12p.m.]
“I’m sorry.” Two words Eastside residents never thought they would hear from the state agency charged with regulating a controversial Vernon-based acid-lead battery recycler found to have repeatedly violated toxic chemical air emissions standards.
For the first time since taking the helm of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, Director Barbara Lee personally addressed a public meeting discussing the now-closed Exide Technologies plant. DTSC has been heavily criticized for “failing” to protect the public from arsenic and lead emissions, chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological damage.
“I know many feel the department has failed you, I want to start of by saying I’m very sorry,” Lee told hundreds of residents and environmental activists during a meeting April 9 at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to discuss Exide’s closure plan.
The tone at last week’s meeting was quieter and less combative then past meetings, but skepticism and mistrust still hung heavy in the air.
“We want to know what happened …we want to know who is responsible,” demanded Mark Lopez, director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justices.
Lopez asked Lee if she would consider opening a criminal investigation into DTSC’s handling of the Vernon plant, which it allowed to operate on an interim permit for decades despite being found to have exposed eastside residents to cancer-causing toxins.
Lee did not at first directly respond to the request, instead denying any criminal activity on the part of the department, but Lopez pressed on.
“We want accountability. What happened before was not your fault, but moving forward is all your responsibility,” said Lopez, drawing loud applause from the approximately 200 people at the meeting.
“Would you be willing to let me think about it?” Lee asked.
Lopez agreed, explaining he didn’t expect the DTSC director to make a decision right then and there. “I just want to make sure you respond on the record in front of all of us,” he said.
Lee was appointed to head DTSC about four months ago and was not part of the protracted battle to shutter the troubled plant, but said she understands why residents mistrust the agency.
“It’s important we do not let this happen again,” she said, promising to do things differently moving forward.
For more than a decade, area residents complained to DTSC and the South Coast Air Quality Management District about Exide, but it took an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office to permanently close down the facility.
Federal authorities announced last month that they had struck a deal to close the plant in exchange for Exide and its executives avoiding criminal prosecution for their illegal handling of hazardous waste. The deal requires Exide to pay the entire cost to clean its plant and homes in the surrounding community found to have been contaminated. DTSC will oversee the closure and clean up.
“We won folks,” Monsignor John Moretta happily told the crowd.
However, not everyone is as convinced or ready to forgive.
“I don’t want to hear I’m sorry because nobody is more sorry than me,” said a tearful Terry Cano before she shared that her father had died from cancer she believes was caused by Exide’s emissions.
“You’re telling me this is the best you can do,” she said, angry that there will be no criminal prosecutions.
The meeting drew residents from Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Maywood, Commerce and Huntington Park, the area most heavily impacted by Exide generated pollution. Several people said the deal did not do enough to compensate the people harmed by the Vernon plant.
Teresa Marquez told Lee she believes the director wants to move the agency forward, but questioned whether any DTSC employee had been fired over the agency’s handling of the facility.
Lee said DTSC is being overhauled and new deputy directors have been brought in to replace staff no longer at the agency.
That prompted Lopez to again push for a criminal investigation.
“We want to know where they are now and if they are working for another similar agency making those same [bad] decisions,” he said. There is no victory until a closer look is taken at the systemic problems that allowed a company like Exide to keep polluting the community for so long, without that, real change is not possible, Lopez said.
A Huntington Park resident asked Lee to consider expanding the area being tested for lead and arsenic to include more nearby communities. Currently, testing is focused on East L.A., Boyle Heights and Maywood, which Lee explained was determined by AQMD modeling that identified the areas most likely to be contaminated.
“Predictions also come in the form of weather forecasts and they’re not always right,” the resident responded.
Moving forward, Exide has to submit a closure/post closure plan to DTSC by May 15. The agency will review the plans for compliance then present the plan to the public for comment sometime in the fall. Removal of the buildings and structures at the site is expected to start in spring 2016 and take 19-24 months to complete.
“For too many years we did not listen well to you,” Lee told the audience, acknowledging that many residents are not yet ready to trust the agencies responsible for regulating Exide.
“I don’t expect by standing here I will change that, I have to earn your trust,” she said. “I can’t promise you I will always get it right, but I will always give it my best. I hope you will be ready to take one step forward with us,” she said.
“It’s refreshing to hear a different tone,” remarked Maywood Councilman Oscar Magaña.
But for Boyle Heights resident Joe Gonzalez, the fight is far from over.
“We haven’t won,” he said, “we just threw the first punch that will change the momentum.”
Driving near any of the five rendering plants in Vernon may cause you to wrinkle your nose and quickly roll up your windows to avoid the unpleasant odor coming from the facilities.
Vernon has been home to slaughterhouses and rendering plants like Farmer John for years, but while the city is mostly industrial, it is surrounded by residential neighborhoods in nearby cities.
Environmentalists say local residents have complained for decades about the stench coming from the facilities.
Now, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is stepping in and has proposed a new rule aimed at reducing the smelly emissions, changes a Vernon committee opposed in a letter sent to the agency.
Rule (PR) 415, first proposed in November 2014, would require new and existing rendering facilities, which convert animal waste into other usable commodities, to make equipment changes and implement best management practices.
The proposed rule, set to go before AQMD’s Governing Board July 10, is the result of findings by the Clean Communities Plan for Boyle Heights pilot program, which identified the air quality issue in communities near Vernon. Representatives of public officials, environmental agencies, labor unions and the medical community are part of the pilot.
“The very consistent, terrible smell has covered the southeast and forced people indoors for years,” said Mark Lopez of the environmental justice group East Yard Communities.
There are currently five rendering facilities in the entire Los Angeles Basin, all of them in Vernon and relatively close to one another. They are adjacent to the communities of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Commerce.
According to AQMD, untreated emissions can be detected up to 20 miles away.
“Vernon was set up as an industrial city,” before homes were built in the surrounding communities, explains Leonard Grossberg, Vernon’s director of health and environmental control. “Now we need to be able to live in a symbiotic way,” he said, explaining the decision to weigh in on behalf of the city businesses that would be impacted.
Grossberg told EGP the city and area businesses have made odor control a priority for maintaining quality of life for their neighbors, but added the proposed rule changes fail to take into consideration when the smells are produced and how they can best be mitigated.
Last week, the Green Vernon Commission – created by the city to address sustainability and environmental responsibility issues ¬– sent a letter to AQMD asking the agency to delay the rulemaking process for 180 days to give the facilities time to present “vital information” they feel the agency did not consider.
“Businesses did not hear from AQMD until after they enacted the rules,” Grossberg said. “It was all done really without the input of businesses.”
Peter Corselli, one of the members of the Vernon Green Commission, told EGP the rule is a step in the wrong direction.
“This rule is based on nothing but a completely subjective nose,” he said.
Although Corselli, vice president of the U.S. Growers Cold Storage, will not be affected by the rendering rule, he told EGP he is concerned the stricter regulations will drive business out of town.
“At some point they [regulators] are going to push too hard and the businesses are going to pack up and move,” he said.
Grossberg told EGP he believes AQMD’s extra scrutiny and stricter air quality guidelines are the result of the long battle over emissions from Vernon-based lead battery recycler Exide Technologies, which last month struck a deal to shut down permanently to avoid criminal prosecution.
“Right now the public has the ear of AQMD,” Grossberg said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw Exide as a triumph and are now moving on to the next target,” Corselli told EGP.
AQMD disputes that claim and says a plan to address rendering plant odors has long been a priority for the community.
“The issue of rendering odors has been around for decades and is not a new issue,” AQMD officials told EGP in an email. “The issues at the Exide facility are completely independent and unrelated to this rule.”
According to AQMD, the agency has received comments from affected communities and requests for AQMD to take action.
AQMD would not say if it will delay the process, but did note that “staff is actively considering all comments received” and that a public hearing scheduled for May 1 has been pushed back to July.
The city’s five rendering plants estimate complying with the rule changes could cost each of the facilities around $1 million, said Grossberg, even though all the facilities are currently complying with air quality standards.
Citing information from the city’s fire department, the commission expressed concern that construction requirements, such as the enclosure of all processing areas, would violate the city’s fire code.
“The Vernon Fire Marshall would object to enclosing any processing areas as it would make fighting grease/oil fires more difficult,” reads the letter to AQMD.
Upgrades could require the plants to close during construction, putting 800 rendering jobs at stake, according to the commission.
Farmer John is the one of the largest employers in the city, employing nearly 1,300 workers. Corselli told EGP further regulating what is essentially a nuisance causing no direct harm, will kill business in the city.
“If we can truck out of California, we can truck into California,” said the frustrated business owner.
The rule change would require the facilities to implement new best management practices within 90 days; and more complicated requirements affecting facility permits within 180 days. Failure to comply could lead to closure, something city officials want to avoid.
“We need to think of all those employees who could lose their jobs,” said Councilwoman Melissa Ybarra. “We want to keep the jobs here in Vernon.”
AQMD evaluated odor complaints in the communities surrounding Vernon over a ten-year period. According to the agency, about 35 complaints were received during that time, however, AQMD inspectors could not trace the odor to a specific facility because of their close proximity to one another.
Similarly, according to Grossberg, the city of Vernon says it receives less than half a dozen complaints a year.
The small number of complaints does not justify such an expensive change in the rules, businesses point out. However, AQMD staff believes the “number of complaints is not a good indicator of the impact of odors on area residents.”
AQMD believes the long history of rendering plants in Vernon has caused longtime residents to feel the odors are a part of the area landscape that they cannot be changed.
During past community meetings, staff heard from residents who filed complaints in the past but saw no change, “resulting in a general sense from community members that reporting odors does not yield results.”
While Vernon’s 7-person committee does include representatives of the rendering plants, other members of the committee say they are concerned the proposed rule change is a slippery slope that could eventually lead to further regulation in other areas, such as food processors and bakeries that also emit odors.
“Instead of working with the businesses to come up with a solution, AQMD is coming in with their own solution,” Grossberg told EGP.
“Vernon is here for a reason…so the smells and industry didn’t bother society,” said Corselli. “Now residential is encroaching on Vernon and attacking [the city] for what it has always been.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.”
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.
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.”